Thembi Mtshali-Jones is counting down the days to being honoured with a “Living Legends Award” at the 2019 National Theatre Festival, in North Carolina, US. It’s not her first time receiving a Lifetime Achievement/Living Legends award – she received one in 2009 from the City of Durban and another from the Arts and Culture Trust in 2015. Looking back at the work that I have done to date and receiving these coveted awards, they all point to the longevity I have achieved in my career and are signs of God’s breath of life on my journey in this business.
“It is really about how far you can go and how far you can take your talent, and I am therefore proof that you can take it as far as you want to,” she said.
The playwright and singer was introduced to the arts industry in 1972 when storyteller and poet Gcina Mhlophe kick-started her acting career. But before her career took off, Mtshali-Jones worked as a domestic at the Durban beachfront. With a love for the arts, she took all acting jobs – all that mattered was performing and money was not a factor.
“Acting was never seen as a real career during those days, all that mattered was the gratification that came with performing in front of a crowd to fulfil that longing. So when I performed for the first time, I didn’t even know I could be taking this as a career,” she said. Her dreams came true when she found herself traveling the world and performing in New York as part of the “Ipi Ntombi” cast.
“Those were the times when television was not a thing and we solely had the theatre stage to create these magical productions. That is why theatre will forever be my first love because that is where I was groomed and trained by the challenges we come across, portraying different characters on stage and learning harsh lessons that made us who we are,” she said.
She featured in household programmes such as “Stokvel” and Mzansi’s favourite “Sgudi Snaysi” in the 80s alongside legends such as Gloria Mudau, Joe Mafela and her longtime friend Daphney Hlomuka who died in 2008.
“Daphney was actually my childhood friend because we schooled together in KwaMashu. We grew up in the same township and we also worked together as domestic workers.
“We started working together in the same production, our very first production ‘Umabatha’ before finding ourselves on television together where we created our own family bond with Joe Mafela and mama Gloria. It was a magical time for us to grow on screen together because we didn’t know what was going to happen with the show and the growth it came with,” she reminisced.
Mtshali-Jones,70, draws her strength from her supporters who continue to validate her work. There is no one else in this entire world like you or capable of doing things like you. Our uniqueness is our strength and my younger self and many other coming up in the industry must know that you are the best version of yourself because there is no other,” she said.
While at the National Black Theatre Festival, which takes place from July 29 – August 3 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Mtshali-Jones will also be performing her one woman play, “Mother to Mother” written by Sindiwe Magona and directed by Janice Honeyman.
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