Gail Mabalane is the South African actress, model, media socialite, businesswoman and singer who has risen to fame these last few years. Find out about the upcoming 4th season of Blood and Water, and get Gail's thoughts on healthy mental health habits in honour of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Someone in a dark room calls out for the individuals to come forward. Number four steps up: a woman of average height and build, with a simple and unassuming appearance. Her short, natural hair complements her functional outfit, bruised, fragile, dry lips and all... 

This scene starring Gail Mabalane, from her recent lead role in the Netflix crime thriller Unseen, showcases the actor’s precision and craft. It’s the kind of show-stopping performance we’ve come to expect from her incredible range and talent. 

In the six-episode series, a South African adaptation of Turkish series Fatma, Gail plays Zenzi Mwale, a cleaning lady who embarks on a dangerous search for her husband, Max, who’s been released from prison and gone missing. Pretty soon, the bodies are piling up and she’s a suspect... 

Gail gives a dramatic and commanding performance, captivating the audience with each passionate rant, expertly conveying her character’s waning self-assurance. The role allowed Gail to explore new depths as an actor, and she delivers an authentic, raw performance. 

‘I’m forcing myself to just take this moment. I’ve been in the industry for a decade, and this is the first lead character I’ve played,’ Gail says. ‘So, I’m taking it all in – the fact that I’m on a global platform telling this incredible story, and that it’s taken me 10 years to get to this place.’

Gail has another notable performance under her belt, that of Thandeka Khumalo in Blood and Water (also on Netflix), which is returning for a fourth season. ‘I enjoyed tapping into all those emotions and allowing her to feel all of them,’ she says of playing a mother searching for her abducted daughter.

Gail’s journey into the spotlight began in 2010, when she entered season six of Idols SA. Although she did not win, her talent and charisma led to an audition for the critically acclaimed M-Net soapie, The Wild. Despite having no acting experience, she landed the role and soon made her television debut as Lelo Sidibe, a glam Joburg fashion editor.

‘It was very intimidating, but I was fortunate and privileged enough to be surrounded by supportive cast members,’ she says. These included the iconic Connie and Shona Ferguson. The opportunity opened doors for her, and over the next few years she quickly became a beloved figure on our screens, appearing in Generations: The Legacy, Rockville and The Road.

Gail’s journey to success has not been without its challenges. When she was 21 years old, she lost her mother to a long-term illness and, six months later, her older brother died in an accident. She put her plans on hold and stayed in Kimberley to help care for her father and younger sister. 

Four years later, with her sights set on pursuing her passion for singing, she relocated to Joburg, leaving her small-town roots behind. She auditioned for Idols SA, and the rest is history. 

Despite her undeniable talent and success, Gail faced her fair share of insecurities, especially at the start of her career. ‘I constantly asked myself if I was good enough, whether I have what it takes,’ she says. As she matured and gained experience, she discovered that true strength comes from within. ‘With age, you become secure in who you are. I now know I don’t need to fit in.’

Gail’s relationship with God has been a source of inspiration and empowerment for her. It’s helped her accept herself as an individual and forgo the pressures to conform, she reveals. This renewed self-assurance catapulted her career and introduced her to previously inaccessible opportunities.

But her journey goes beyond the screen. Gail has also established herself as an entrepreneur. In 2022 she launched her vegan and cruelty-free haircare brand, Ethnogenics. The story behind it is personal. Gail had swapped her signature short pixie cut for a bun in preparation for a role. A few weeks after shooting, she decided to remove the bun.

‘The lady who washed my hair removed the bun. I remember her taking it off – it felt like it literally broke off my hair... Where the bun was, that whole section of hair at the top of my head came off with the bun.’ She was diagnosed with central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, a common cause of hair loss in black women.

Determined to overcome this challenge, she embraced her hair loss and used her experience to educate and empower others. ‘It was clear from my own journey that knowledge was the missing piece. I realised there was a distinct lack of education around how to solve the problem,’ she says.

In 2013 she married popular kwaito musician Kabelo Mabalane. The couple met at a networking/support meeting for people in the entertainment industry, and they marked their 10th anniversary in February this year. 

Her husband captioned an Instagram post: ‘No, you will not find a love that is perfect, but you will find a love that is light, that isn’t heavy to carry, that does not weigh down the core of you.’

Together, the pair have built a beautiful family, with their two young children, Zoe and Khumo, at the centre of their lives. ‘I’ve learnt so much about myself and my capacity to love,’ she says about motherhood. Gail and Kabelo are striving to empower their children for a successful future while also instilling in them the essential values of humanity and humility. Making others feel appreciated is important in their household. ‘In their quest to be more, we want them not to forget people and build relationships. People don’t remember what you acquired but how you made them feel,’ she says.

“I constantly asked myself if I was good enough, whether I have what it takes... I now know I don’t need to fit in”
Gail is humble and appreciative of her career success. She recognises the significance of her journey and the time it took to reach this point. Her life has been filled with excitement and hard work, but along the way she has also learned the importance of self-care, of caring for her mental health and maintaining a strong support system to thrive. 

‘As women, we think we should be doing everything ourselves, but it’s okay to ask for help,’ she says. ‘Taking care of yourself is the secret to being a good mother, wife and person.’

  • A book that significantly impacted my life is In Pursuit of Purpose by Myles Munroe.
  • My mother’s chicken curry is one of my favourite dishes!
  • When it comes to my usual attire, I opt for a combination of jeans, comfortable sneakers and a plain T-shirt.
  • I love spending my holidays in my hometown of Kimberley. It’s my favourite destination.

Instagram: @gail_mabalane
Facebook: @GailMabalane

Words by: Koketso Mashika
Photography: Zhann Solomons

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