The story of Thembi Nyandeni is the story of Todd Twala. They have known each other for five decades and have shared their talents and passions for the arts with the world for 40 years.
Theirs is a tale of enduring friendship and genuine sisterhood. They met in their early teens at primary school in Soweto and became bosom buddies.
Thembi was the feistier of the two and would deal with the bullies. They started their professional careers in 1976 as stage performers.
It was a decade that witnessed the birth of some of the most memorable musicals that graced local and international stages.
Nyandeni’s first gig was Ipi Ntombi (1974), a Joan Brickhill and Louis Burke stage production that featured the regal and incomparable Lady Africa, Margaret Mcingana. With it she toured the world and performed for eminent people and royalty.
Ipi Tombi’s phenomenal success on global stages was mirrored by the success of Meropa. Also launched in 1974, Meropa too became an international phenomenon, with Twala playing a prominent role.
Starring with Marah Louw and the late Sidney Chama, among others, their international highlights included taking London by storm and meeting Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1978 both shows were entertaining at London’s West End. In the same year Todd joined her friend in the Ipi Tombi cast after Meropa’s run came to the end. It was a turning point in their careers as singers and dancers. Working in the same production meant they could easily share their visions and ambitions.
They started conceptualising and choreographing their own dance pieces.
When they returned home in 1982 from the US after Ipi Ntombi’s long, successful run, they formed Pals for Africa, a dynamic dance duo. Their traditional repertoire choreographed to the beat of Juluka’s music was a hit across southern African countries.
However, with success, there were also lean years when gigs ran dry. These challenges inspired them to branch out into other fields of the entertainment industry.
Todd entered the music industry as a member of a popular but short-lived 1980s band called Chess - whose multiracial line-up included keyboard player, Thelma Segona. She subsequently joined Sipho Mabuse as a backing vocalist.
Thembi entered the world of television as an actress. Her portrayal of Beauty in Kwakhala Nyonini (1989) as a modern, streetwise wife of the polygamous Mfaniseni (Magic Hlatshwayo) is still a favourite topic among those who watched the Zulu drama.
Since then she has starred in a number of television shows and garnered prestigious accolade.
Her current role of Mkabayi Zungu, the no-nonsense, tough-talking, gun-toting matriarch of the Zungu family in Isibaya is one of the best-loved on local television. She also portrays Minister Mazibuko, a political head of a problematic correctional centre in Lockdown.
Nyandeni and Twala’s committed friendship finds poignant symbolism in Umoja - The Spirit of Togetherness (2001), celebrates the rich diversity of South African dance and musical traditions. It’s also a vehicle they had used to unearth and expose young talent from underprivileged backgrounds.