“… television gives you superficial fame…it is not as daunting as doing theatre…theatre has an edge…. every day is not the same…”

Thembi Mtshali’s story is in every way a South African story. It is:
A ‘from rural village to world stage’ story. A ‘from domestic worker to Honorary Doctorate’ story. It is a rare story which must be heard. A story filled with humility, hope, joy, dignity, and honour.

Her mother was sixteen when she gave birth to her. She lived with her grandmother in a remote village in the hills of Ulundi. She attended school. An education system that would qualify her to be no more than a domestic worker. In Durban her Jewish ‘madam’ encouraged her to audition for Welcome Msomi’s uMabatha. She wasn’t even sure what that was. A black Macbeth!? They nabbed her with alacrity and took her overseas. Dutifully she returned to her ‘madam’.
Again, she auditioned. This time for Ipi Tombi. Scooping the lead role as Mama Temba, she has never looked back. Honour has rolled before her like the proverbial red carpet.

For several years she toured with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. In Edinburgh she and Gcina Mhlope won the Fringe First with Have You Seen Zandile? She toured the UK and USA with Malcolm Purkey’s Marabi. She toured with the legendry Dizzy Gillespie. She was made an Honorary Citizen of Louisville and Kentucky bestowed on her their highest honorary title, Kentucky Colonel. In 2022, Natal University conferred on her an Honorary Doctorate.

From the experience of the play Truth in Translation which opened in Rwanda and travelled to countries which have felt the effects of war, her eyes were opened to the shortfalls of South Africa’s own healing process.

Thembi has a smile that bursts hearts, a giggle that warms your soul. For seventeen wonderful years she was married to Emrys Jones, who added ‘Jones’ to her off-stage name. Her story is joyous. Now she is a television star. A major star. An Emmy star. Another whole chapter.