“There was a time I never saw myself living beyond 2001.” These are the chilling words of actress Nokuthula Ledwaba, last week as she spoke about her struggles with depression and anxiety.
Ledwaba, who is also vocal about issues and challenges faced by artists, said the pressures that come with the spotlight and the heavy social expectations are part of the reason why so many artists are depressed in South Africa.
“It is just so much worse now, with the rise of social media influence. I feel for people who are venturing into it now. The public’s expectations are so much, and not just the public but also our families. That is where the pressures really, really come - where you are expected to stretch yourself over and above your abilities.”
But even without the glare of the social media, when she was still a relatively unknown from Soshanguve in Pretoria faced with the challenge of figuring out what her career path was going to be, she found herself anxious and depressed.
“You know when you are going through your late teens, you are faced with making so many choices and there are so many questions. There was just a lot happening for an 18/19-year-old me at the time and it really depressed me and made me anxious. It was a long battle.
“My dream, that burning desire, kept me alive in the face of gloom. As bleak as everything was around me, the burning desire to act - because I knew that I was gifted - kept me alive,” she said.
Although Ledwaba was able to find solace in her acting, she said not all artists are able to work through depression.
With this in mind, she questions the kind of strength that artists are expected to have, considering the knocks they experience within their careers, knocks that often far outnumber their victories.
“And it is really difficult getting a potential job only to lose it right at the end because of a minor technicality. I remember I almost got a gig in the US with a big broadcaster and at the last minute, I didn’t get it after having done so well at the auditions. How do you not expect to find a huge number of industry peers not suffering?”
That period of darkness in her life gave rise to a new Ledwaba. After the depression she came out stronger. If artists would recognise and appreciate their own, support their own, Ledwaba believes the industry would be a better place to be.
“There is something about African performers, the advantage that we have, there is something in the soil and I think that is where we draw our strength, though sometimes we are not sure or we don’t know, but there is a well that we draw from.
“It’s such a pity that the powers that be are not investing in the greatness we have. I wish our own would recognise the need for the industry to recognise our star power and invest in us,” she said.
Ledwaba, who is a mother, has a couple of notable achievements under her belt, including appearances in international movies such as playing the courthouse young woman in the 2013’s Long Walk to Freedom featuring Idris Elba, playing Micaela in Mary and Martha and in the highly acclaimed Roots as Binta Kinte.
Locally, the actress has featured on Mzansi’s Abo Mama, Umlilo and is Angelina in 1Magic’s telenovela, The River.
She said she was ready for bigger challenges.
“Now I think I want to go do international work. I am ready for it. I know something is coming and that is what my career is waiting for now.”