Durban - Legendary artist Thembi Mtshali-Jones has added another title to her list of achievements after the Faculty of Arts and Design at the Durban University of Technology conferred an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual and Performing Arts at this year’s graduation.
Mtshali-Jones, 72, cut her teeth in the entertainment industry back in the 1970s with a professional stage performance in the musical production. She has been featured in several popular drama, series, soapies and sitcoms and bagged a number of awards.
Speaking about her journey, Mtshali-Jones said she joined the entertainment industry as an escape from reality.
“It was an escape from working as a domestic servant after dropping out from training as a nurse.
“I loved singing from an early age. I sang in school and church choirs, but I never thought that singing would pave my way into the entertainment industry.
“I did it for the love of it at first, and then I was encouraged to audition for a theatre show and my journey began,” she said.
She said in the early 1970s she joined the first adaptation of ‘Umabatha’, which was produced by Professor Elizabeth Sneddon at Howard College. She was also part of ‘Meropa’, the musical which was produced by Joan Brickhill, and later joined ‘Ipi Tombi’, which was produced by Bertha Egnos.
She got to travel the world as a result of the production and ended up in New York in 1976.
“While in the US I worked with the late Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, touring in the US and Europe. Coming back home, I joined the Market Theatre and worked with names such as Dr Gcina Mhlophe in the production called ‘Have You Seen Zandile?’ ”
In 1988, Mtshali-Jones took on her first major television role as Thoko in ‘Sgudi Snaysi’, which became an instant hit and catapulted her acting career on television.
In addition to acting, she wears many other caps in the entertainment industry.
“I am a co-founder of Spirit Sister Productions which has produced television productions like ‘Power Within’, an acclaimed women’s television magazine programme.
Spirit Sister has also and still is producing other magazine TV programmes like ‘Simcha’ and ‘Derech Eretz’.
“I have co-written and acted in theatre plays like ‘Mother to Mother’, ‘Big Sister’ and ‘A Woman in Waiting’ which performed internationally including at The New Ambassador Theatre on the West End, London.
“I have also held seats in different theatre boards of directors including the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and The Playhouse Company in Durban,” she said.
On her honorary degree from the DUT, the seasoned actor felt humbled by the institution’s gesture and dedicated her honour to the artists hard-hit by Covid-19 pandemic and those who have succumbed to it.
She encouraged young up-and-coming artist not to give up on their dreams.
“Once you identify your gift, own it and protect it. Keep working on refreshing and finding ways to upgrade your talent. It’s not an easy journey. Many disappointments and rejections will come along the way. Just stay focused. Remember, no matter how small the role is, it is just as important - it might lead you to bigger things. So always give your all and stay humble,” said Mtshali-Jones.