Cover story: Ayanda Tha­bethe


There’s no stop­ping AYANDA THA­BETHE, 31. Not only is she brand am­bas­sador for a beauty and a hair brand, the ris­ing star is also a pre­sen­ter on Top Billing. Plus, she runs a mar­ket­ing agency and a hair sa­lon. We catch up with the busi­ness-savvy per­son­al­ity to chat all things hair and entertainment.

It’s Ayanda Tha­bethe’s dif­fer­ent mind­set that sets her apart. At a time when celebs have gone the route of reality shows, bi­ogra­phies, apps and cloth­ing lines, she’s de­cided to ven­ture into the hair in­dus­try. We’ve ar­ranged to do the in­ter­view over cof­fee at the De­sign Quar­ter in Four­ways, and the first thing I no­tice as we greet each other is her hair. She’s sport­ing a shoul­der-length bob and she looks stun­ning, as al­ways.

Our con­ver­sa­tion starts with all things hair, es­pe­cially Ayanda’s self­funded uni­sex brand, Liyanda Hair & Beauty Sa­lon, sit­u­ated in one of Joburg’s up­mar­ket sub­urbs, Mel­rose. The sa­lon’s unique name com­bines the first names of Ayanda and her busi­ness part­ner, Lin­delwa Nkam­bule. The pair used to be col­leagues at cos­metic gi­ant L’Oréal South Africa.

The sa­lon caters to eth­nic hair. There is a huge de­mand for an afro hair­care sanc­tu­ary that al­lows both men and women to zone out of the hus­tle and bus­tle of daily life. The own­ers of Liyanda aim to be just that, as well as to pro­vide the best ser­vice and hair so­lu­tions for peo­ple who choose to wear their hair nat­u­ral. “There are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties and lots of room to grow and learn. The abil­ity to be cre­ative and in­vent new styles and meth­ods is what makes own­ing the sa­lon fun,” says the TV pre­sen­ter, whose love for hair is ob­vi­ous.


Look­ing through Ayanda’s im­pres­sive CV, you re­alise that all her hard work pre­pared her to be the busi­ness­woman she is to­day. Born in KwaZulu-Na­tal, Ayanda at­tended an all-girls board­ing school, Sa­cred Heart Girls’ High School. Af­ter com­plet­ing a BCom in com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, she moved to Joburg, where she found a job as a per­sonal as­sis­tant in a fi­nance com­pany. A few months later, she be­came a mar­ket­ing in­tern at John­son & John­son while study­ing for her hon­ours de­gree in mar­ket­ing. Soon the com­pany pro­moted her to a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive, which en­tailed her work­ing with med­i­cal equip­ment di­ag­nos­tics in theatres and hos­pi­tals.

That was fol­lowed by a short stint at an­other com­pany sell­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts. “I wasn’t into it. My col­leagues con­stantly pointed out that I didn’t be­long there and needed to be on TV,” she says.

Still, Ayanda stayed in the cor­po­rate world and be­came a mar­ket­ing in­tern once again, this time at L’Oréal South Africa. “I had a feel­ing that this would lead to big­ger things,” she says. And it did. A year later, she was pro­moted to brand man­ager for the com­pany’s eth­nic hair­care brand, Dark and Lovely. She thrived in that role for three years and this is where her pas­sion for hair was nur­tured. She and Lin­delwa, who also worked for the same brand, ab­sorbed as much as they could about the hair in­dus­try.

“It is thanks to my be­ing a brand man­ager that I felt con­fi­dent about open­ing this sa­lon. For­tu­nately, my busi­ness part­ner Lin­delwa had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing our time there. We col­lab­o­rated as we both wanted to be en­trepreneurs. We know hair, so we de­cided it would be a great tran­si­tion to ven­ture into hair.”


When Ayanda left L’Oréal in 2015 her plan was to carve a ca­reer in the entertainment in­dus­try. She hadn’t yet ven­tured into the hair busi­ness. She had al­ready done a few gigs in entertainment while work­ing at L’Oréal, but this was on a small scale as her job didn’t al­low her to take on big­ger roles. In 2012, Ayanda hosted a show called Top Entertainment along­side rap­per AKA, which aired on the pay-TV satel­lite brand that was then known as Top TV.

She also ap­peared as an ex­tra on Gen­er­a­tions and on a five-part se­ries called Tooth & Nails, which aired on Mzansi Magic. She did part-time mod­el­ling work and starred in a string of TV ad­verts, in­clud­ing one for hair­care la­bel Sun­silk.


Ayanda’s TV break­through came in 2016 with her role as Aaliyah on Rockville, the Mzansi Magic hit se­ries pro­duced by Fer­gu­son Films. She was ap­proached by Con­nie Fer­gu­son, one of the show’s creators, to star in the first sea­son of the lo­cal soapie, which aired in 2013. Ayanda couldn’t ac­cept the role be­cause at the time, she was work­ing at L’Oréal. “I missed that chance, which left a hole in my heart. So when this op­por­tu­nity came again, I grabbed it. I left the cor­po­rate world and de­cided that if entertainment didn’t work for me, I could dust off my de­grees and head back to of­fice life.”

Af­ter Rockville, Ayanda started pick­ing up more TV gigs and soon be­came a co-host on the mag­a­zine show BET A-list, on DStv chan­nel BET, along­side Nandi Ma­dida. To­day, this ris­ing star is a pre­sen­ter on SABC 3’s

“It’s thanks to my be­ing a brand man­ager that I felt con­fi­dent about open­ing a sa­lon. For­tu­nately, my busi­ness part­ner Lindiwe has sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. So we col­lab­o­rated as we both wanted to be en­trepreneurs. We know hair!”

life­style show, Top Billing.

In ad­di­tion to her on-screen work, Ayanda has clinched many lu­cra­tive deals, in­clud­ing be­ing the face of fash­ion la­bel Le­git, with a range de­signed specif­i­cally for her. She’s cur­rently the face of skin­care la­bel Pond’s and the global am­bas­sador for the hair­care prod­uct line, Mizani. She was also named Hottie of the Year at the 2016 Feather Awards.

“I’m very care­ful not to think I’ve ‘ar­rived’,” she says. “I don’t feel like that. I see it as me mak­ing great strides and hav­ing ac­com­plished some of my per­sonal goals. I be­came com­fort­able with who I am be­fore I got into the entertainment in­dus­try, a place that can see you all over the show if you aren’t headstrong. The most im­por­tant thing is the work, and every­thing else is friv­o­lous for me. I like this fa­mous quote: ‘It takes a long time to be an overnight suc­cess.’

“I like it be­cause it em­pha­sises the amount of work I’ve put in be­hind the scenes, away from the cam­era. Peo­ple don’t re­alise just how much I’ve put in. They only get to see the re­sults.”


Mak­ing the switch from cor­po­rate to entertainment was not as easy as Ayanda thought it would be. “I knew I’d have to work hard, and I was pre­pared for that. What I didn’t ex­pect is how com­pet­i­tive this in­dus­try is. Peo­ple com­pare you to in­di­vid­u­als who’ve been in entertainment way longer than you, which I don’t get.”

Asked if there’s any­thing new that she’s bring­ing to the in­dus­try, she says: “I know the busi­ness be­hind entertainment based on my mar­ket­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to look at it from a bird’s-eye view. I look at what ev­ery­one is do­ing, and then fig­ure out how I can do it dif­fer­ently. God gave me this op­por­tu­nity, and even though some­times we want things to hap­pen in our own time, God has a way of say­ing: ‘Not now.’

“It took me a long time to be in entertainment and when I even­tu­ally be­came a part of it, I was more ma­ture and had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of my­self. I think peo­ple can see that I’m con­fi­dent and com­fort­able in my own skin. I’m au­then­tic and never try to be any­one else. I’m brand­ing my­self the way I want peo­ple to see me, and that’s been an ad­van­tage for me.”

“I’m very care­ful not to think I’ve ‘ar­rived’. I don’t feel like that. I see it as me mak­ing great strides and hav­ing ac­com­plished some of my per­sonal goals”


There’s no stop­ping this ris­ing star, who’s on a roll. In ad­di­tion to the entertainment jobs and am­bas­sador­ships, Ayanda runs two fully op­er­a­tional busi­nesses. She owns a mar­ket­ing agency called Buz­zwor­thy Pro­duc­tions, ser­vic­ing com­pa­nies which aim to cre­ate a ‘buzz’ for their brands. It has been run­ning for two years and boasts Nestlé as one of its top clients. And then there’s the hair and beauty sa­lon in Mel­rose.

Which takes us back to the sub­ject of hair. As a global am­bas­sador, Ayanda gets to rub shoul­ders with renowned stylists like César Ramirez, who is the stylist to su­per­stars in­clud­ing Ciara and Kim Kar­dashian. By net­work­ing with busi­ness-minded peo­ple like the ones above and learn­ing from them, Ayanda says, it will help her busi­nesses grow.

“I’m a solid busi­ness­woman. I use my in­flu­ence and the power that I have in the entertainment in­dus­try to direct my busi­ness. I look up to women like Khanyi Dhlomo, Baset­sana Ku­malo and Jo-Ann Strauss. Th­ese are the kinds of women I as­so­ciate my­self with. I love women who are grace­ful, hum­ble and very pow­er­ful, and whose power doesn’t need to shout. That’s the per­son I want to be,” she says.


Ayanda is one of our ‘it’ girls who has seen her star rise in 2017. She is happy with her achieve­ments, more so be­cause she worked hard for every­thing she has. She comes from hum­ble be­gin­nings. As the mid­dle of five sis­ters, she is glad that they were taught the im­por­tance of hard work at home. She and her sis­ters were raised by a sin­gle mother who worked as a nurse, and sold cooldrinks and made dresses on the side.

Ayanda’s par­ents di­vorced when she was two years old, and the fam­ily moved around Dur­ban quite a bit be­fore set­tling in one place. She, her mother and sis­ters have lived in the Dur­ban town­ships of Kwa Mashu, Shayamoya, Ntuzuma and Um­lazi. None of her sis­ters are in entertainment. One is an

en­gi­neer, an­other an en­vi­ron­men­tal health spe­cial­ist and the youngest is still in high school. Her younger sis­ter Lungi, who grad­u­ated with a de­gree in pol­i­tics, works with Ayanda.


Ayanda now lives a dif­fer­ent life from the one of her child­hood years. While she’s con­tent with how things are pan­ning out for her, she in­sists that there’s still room for growth in all her ven­tures. She smiles as she pulls me back to our ear­lier hair dis­cus­sion by com­par­ing her life and ca­reer jour­ney to that of her hair.

She ex­plains that much like her ca­reer, there’s noth­ing she hasn’t tried as far as hair­styles go. She’s had an afro, been bald, rocked short hair, done a bold cut, braided and plaited her tresses, re­laxed them and gone back to nat­u­ral. “Of all of th­ese, my worst hair mem­ory was made the end of my first year at var­sity. That’s when I de­cided to go com­pletely bald. It was painful wait­ing for my hair to grow back. I can’t even re­mem­ber why I did it, but it felt like for­ever be­fore it grew!”

Ayanda sees her hair as her crown­ing glory now and she’s lucky to have hair ex­perts on-call who make sure that it’s al­ways in top form and look­ing gor­geous. As a child, it was her mother who made a fuss about her hair.

“My mom was very hands-on with my hair. She used to neatly plait it dur­ing my pri­mary school days; she was also very care­ful not to use harsh prod­ucts. I re­call us­ing prod­ucts called Black Silk ear­lier on be­cause she swore by them. I had big hair and to this day, I don’t strug­gle with the vol­ume or length of my hair un­less I’m at a shoot and my mane is not han­dled well.

“I’ve had re­laxed hair for most of my life, but I only re­lax it twice a year now. I do change my hair a lot, de­pend­ing on what at­ti­tude, mood or feel­ing I’m try­ing to ex­press at the time, and of course, if I have a shoot to do,” she says. Ayanda is quick to add that, to keep her hair in tip-top shape, she fol­lows a very strict hair­care rou­tine. “I wash it weekly and treat it monthly. I also get my hair trimmed reg­u­larly to main­tain its length and vol­ume. I mois­turise the scalp and make sure that I avoid prod­uct build-up.” She adds: “I also in­vest in the best hair­care prod­ucts to en­sure my hair al­ways looks and feels healthy. Your hair is your crown, af­ter all so you have to take care of it.”

Be­fore we say good­bye, I sug­gest to Ayanda that since her hair is such an im­por­tant part of her life, what kind of con­ver­sa­tions would she have with it if she could? She laughs out loud, thinks to her­self for a while and then she replies: “I’ll write a let­ter to my hair and send it to you. How about that?”

And she did! Here it is:

Top For­ever New Jeans Zara Shoes H&M Ear­rings Co­lette

Ki­mono Zara Ear­rings Co­lette

Dress Queenspark

Dress Top­shop

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