Thembi Nyandeni of Isibaya

It has been a great start to the year for veteran actress Thembi Nyandeni, currently in Mzansi Magic’s telenovela-turned-soapie, Isibaya. She bagged the Outstanding Leading Actress honours at the Royalty Soapie Awards last month and took the Best Actress in a TV Soap accolade at the eighth South African Film and Television Awards. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with her to chat about her influential and captivating role as Mkabayi Zungu in Isibaya and her wins.

FORTY fabulous years in the industry – that’s how long Thembi Nyandeni has been acting.

And it’s been an extraordinary journey, crammed with a string of roles that covered the gamut from theatre to TV to film.

Now she is basking in the attention from her wins at the Royalty Soapie Awards (Outstanding Leading Actress) and South African Film and Television Awards (Best Actress in a TV Soap) for her matriarchal role as Mkabayi Zungu in The Bomb Shelter’s brainchild, Isibaya.

And soak it up, she should!

She tells Tonight: “I’m honoured. I have never been so happy. It is like a drug. I’m still high.”

Of her wins, she did admit that she wasn’t 100 percent sure she was going to bag the awards, but she did feel pretty confident.

Nyandeni smiles: “You know how these things are. You cannot be too sure. One part of me was telling me I’m going to win.”

A household face on the small screen, the seasoned actress points out she was keen on the role even before they wrote the character. She went on what they (the production company) explained to her of her character as the story really resonated with her.

She elaborates: “I grew up in a taxi environment. My father raised all eight kids with the money from the taxi industry. He was a taxi owner. I knew exactly what was expected of me – it wasn’t going to be a difficult character. I just had to live it and bring it alive (on camera).

“I was dying for a part like this to show people what I’m capable of,” she admits.

What of the other roles she has done to date, Tonight asked.

Nyandeni has been in Zone 14, Tsotsi, A Reasonable Man, Kickboxer 5 and Ipi-Tombi, to highlight a few.

“They were just supporting roles,” she notes. “This character exposed the real me; what Thembi is about. Mkabayi Zungu is an influential character.”

What made the wins all the more rewarding was that her co-star, Siyabonga Twala, who plays her brother Mpiyakhe, also took the same honours in the actor category at both award ceremonies.

She says: “Because both of us come from a stage background, we like to sit down before we even shoot. We come early, read the lines, play around with the words. I would say: ‘Maybe put it like this’. Or he would say the same. By the time we shoot, I don’t even call him Siyabonga. He is my brother. That helps me with my character.”

And the good news kept rolling in when Mzansi Magic recently announced that the lifespan of the telenovela was being extended to that of a daily drama.

Nyandeni offers: “I think everybody wanted to hear that. Telenovelas end and soapies can go on and on. It is sad when you do good work and have to stop and go and look for another job.”

The big upset in the storyline at the moment is the arrival of Bhekifa Ngubane (who is played by Vusi Kunene).

Nyandeni reveals: “He is here for revenge. Many years ago, I chased him away. Now he is retaliating.”

Is Mkabayi ready for the brewing war?

“She is a crazy woman who doesn’t have a man. Mkabayi has this motto: ‘I will kill you if you mess around with my family’. The man I was supposed to marry was killed in that village. I’m still bitter and my brother just came back from the dead. I’m more dangerous than before. And my brother is dangerous, too,” she hints.

Looks like this matriarch is on a mission – best you stay tuned for the battle she is about to rain down on the new threat to the Zungus.

Isibaya is on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on weekdays at 8pm.