"I’VE BEEN COMPARED ALL MY LIFE, LABELLED SECOND BEST – AND IT BROKE ME"
Thembi Seete is poised and calm – she exudes all the qualities of a woman who’s come full circle. She’s had her fair shaire of bumpy rides, but there have also been many joys. Because singing and performing on stage was the only thing she knew since she was 14, Thembi was bewildered when all the music group’s members decided to go solo. With no plan on the next big step, she figured it out along the way, which is how she’s become the actress and presenter we’ve all come to love. She’s since appeared in some of South Africa’s biggest productions, including Yizo Yizo, Gaz’lam, Mtunzini.com, Zone 14, Jika Majika, Clash of
the Choirs, and Nguwe Na? Currently, Thembi lights up the small screen as Bongi in etv’s Rhythm City. Global watch brand, Michel Herbelin, also began a relationship with her. “I feel we’re a perfect match as my life parallels the tenacity, longevity and esteemed stance the brand has. I hope our relationship grows into one that eventually sees me as its ambassador worldwide,” she says. There’s also an exciting hair business in the pipeline. “The exclusive hairline range will be called Mes Cheveux, and I’ve partnered Mbali Nkosi and Sharon Khuzwayo to see this dream come alive. We’ve been passionate about hair for so long, and we finally decided to take the leap and get into business.” Thembi really has come far, and she’s accomplished a lot following what she says was a dark period. Unhinged, confident and with a zest to achieve even more, Thembi opens up to us here in her own words...
MY HARD LESSONS
“I’m glad I’m not a young girl anymore. I’ve lived that superficial life of trying to impress everyone and being someone I’m not. I’m a grown woman now. I run my own race at my pace. I don’t care to let everyone know my business. I talk publicly if there’s something important to say. If you see me on the red carpet, there’s a reason I’m there. After Boom Shaka ended, I had to start afresh. Everything I was used to had to come off – the hair, make-up and nails – so I could look for a job. You’ll never know how it feels to hit rock bottom if you’ve never been there. The painful part about being down and out is losing your pride because you’re desperate. At some point, I was so desolate I was willing to take any kind of work, even at a scrap yard. Selling my clothes at Bree Street in Joburg became a reality. During that time, I was the breadwinner at home and took care of my mom and younger brother. I lost all attachment to the things I owned, even though it meant losing the only items that reminded me of Lebo [Mathosa]. But, I had to make ends meet. I thought about the chicken I would buy for my family, or the money my brother needed to buy lunch at school. There was also petrol to think about so I could remain mobile. I sold my car and downgraded to a smaller economical one. Every R100 I got went towards petrol and food. The lifestyle I was used to was no more – all the nice nails, expensive clothes and hair was gone. I soon adjusted to something new. I tell this to anyone who is willing to learn because it is possible to start again. Giving up is never an option.
THE GOOD OLD TIMES
I wouldn’t have done this without my family. When you have someone who encourages you and reminds you to pray and have faith, it means everything. My mother, Rebecca, is my rock. She used to say I’m an
indlovukazi (a queen). I used to be very spoilt. My life during Boom Shaka was easy. We did about 20 shows a month. I didn’t know what it felt like to not work. I knew nothing. Talk about rent or saving used to go over my head. But I learnt enough to know I should buy my own house. At the age of 15, you don’t understand what fame is, how to save or invest your money. Record companies also weren’t helpful; as singers, we just wanted to be on stage and get paid. We were afraid to even ask how much Boom Shaka was paid per perfomance. We didn’t care. Now I know we should have pushed harder, and ask how to save money. We should have been wiser and save for the future. Now I know the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people who have your best interests at heart, and who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’ve messed up.
LABELLED SECOND BEST
The pressure of fame and remaining relevant is tough. People look at you and ask ‘how long did you think you would keep up with this? Who do you think you are? You never did anything – Lebo was the one doing everything.’ The comparisons, and working under Lebo’s shadow was an ongoing challenge. I was compared like that all my life and it broke my heart. I just wanted to hide. I had to learn to keep to myself. I remember one day, I went to Lebo’s house so I could beg her to rejoin the group. One of her dancers came to the gate and told me that Lebo was not there. But I knew she was there. It broke me. I felt rejected. But, that was my light bulb moment. I needed to carry on alone. I focused on putting together all the broken pieces. I sought therapy from a professional and attended church regularly. I was such a negative person. I lost belief in myself – I hated the braids, I hated the nails. I hated everything. I began to blame Boom Shaka for being broke. My hair was falling off; I developed a rash. My therapist would listen to me complain, until one day he read a passage from the Bible, but it fell on deaf ears. He played clips of Boom Shaka song, but I told him to switch it off. He asked me: “Do you want to tell me you hate all of these things that God has blessed you with?” Then it hit me: I was being ungrateful. I didn’t appreciate the recognition I got from being part of such a big band, something that I should have been proud of. So my therapist asked me what I wanted. I said I want to be a simple person. He advised me to not live for other peple. I should make my own decisions and take responsibility and stop blaming everyone. I had to take control. I had not eaten for about ten days because I was under so much stress. That was the change of everything and the beginning of my new life. I even went to a shop to buy white clothes to brighten up my mood. I did an affordable facial, and stayed up late at night just praying to God. I’d light a candle and feel myself getting better. My mindset has change. I’m more attentive. I’m aware how much and what I eat; I plan and work ahead. I know the future can change and you can never really know what it has in store for you so
“I was so desolate I was willing to take any kind of work, even at a scrap yard.”
“I feel personal growth as a woman is vital before pursuing motherhood.”
I save as much as I can. I am conscious about money. The media gives this perception that everything is good; it’s not like that. We are human beings at the end of the day. Once you have a goal push for it and work towards it, which is how I do things. As I said, I keep my head down and focus on doing things my way because I learnt independence the hard way. It hasn’t been easy, but here I am telling my story, which is a blessing.
RUNNING MY OWN RACE
Church revived me, and I was confident to face the world. I wasn’t afraid of what people would say. I needed to feed my famly, so I accepted any work that came my way. I remember once, I got a job at a club where I used to perform. I used to do shows with people like Euphonik. These are the artists I’d book at the club and stand by the door, selling tickets for their shows. The funny thing is the public wants different and fresh stories but the truth is that’s my story, I can’t change it. The challenges are the same for all women, no matter who they are. Some of them might be going through what you went through, even though they not celebrities. While working at the club, I introduced myself to different industries. I went to auditions for Yizo Yizo, Gaz’lam, even though it was hard because I was shy. I had debt to pay – I was behind on the bond payments and electricity, it was a huge responsibility but deep down I knew I would make it one day. Things got so worse, my house was nearly auctioned. Desiree Markgraaff from Bomb Productions got hold of the story because it was on the newspapers. She saved my house from being repossessed. That time I was on Yizo Yizo, the biggest show on SABC 1 produced by Bomb Productions, and there was Jika
Majika, which was a youth dancing show. These two programmes actually launched my acting and presenting career. From the start of my career I vowed I’d never grow arrogant or use my name and how long I’ve been in the industry to get by. With every new gig I get, I take it as a challenge and something to learn from to improve my skills. I’ve learnt over the years to do my best and to approach every situation as a student. I’m a good listener and team player. Respect comes naturally. It’s very easy to forget the things you’ve done in the past and how they affect or impact other people’s lives. I forgot how I’ve changed or even helped other people to start their own careers. Be of the misery and the frustrations you’re experiencing at this moment, you don’t see anything. Remind yourself how good you are; train yourself to know that about yourself. If you’re not satisfied, work on it!
LEARNING TO LIVE AND JUST BE
The challenge of having loads of money is losing it all. Because of that, I’ve prolonged having a child because of the fear of not giving them the great life they deserve. Because of everything I’ve experienced, I’m careful with everything and the decisions I make. I’m afraid of going back to where I was. I’m a freelancer. I’ve always planned ahead but if the contracts come to an end, I need to make sure there’s another project I’m working on. My partner, Bo, and I always talk about how we’d like our special day to be. We’ve been together for many years now. I’m grateful we’re still together. He’s patient and understands me, which I appreciate. He’s still the same guy I fell in love with. We’ve come such a long way, and faced many challenges together which made us stronger. I delayed setting a wedding date because I’ve realised that marriage isn’t about the wedding ceremony or a ring on my finger; it’s about the connection you build with your partner. It was obviously awkward at first to have the conversation with Bo that I didn’t want to get married too soon after getting engaged. When you date someone, you go with the flow but when they propose marriage, you have to ask yourself a few questions to assess whether it’s something you actually want and evaluate whether your partner is able to accept you with your flaws and all. Him wanting to get married immediately after the engagement scared me. Many women don’t say this out loud, but the truth is that when someone asks for your hand in marriage, you ask yourself these questions. The difference with me is that I decided to seek out answers before jumping into marriage. My mom also got sick soon after I got engaged, which is another reason I’ve delayed getting married. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour, so I had to step in and look after her. My mom has had two surgeries, and there were times I thought I’d lose her and so she moved in with me, which meant more attention for her than me and my relationship. Bo has been by my side at the hospital and supporting me while I nursed her back to health. I remember one instance where mom’s health deteriorated so badly I couldn’t leave her side. Bo would lay next to me on the bed. That’s how supportive he is and it’s one of the reasons I love him. I realise that was also God’s way of testing and bringing us closer together. My mom is still sickly but better than before. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, Bo and I are working on it though. As much as I’ve always wanted and prayed for motherhood, I find it daunting and I’ve slowed down on it because I want to do it right. Society pressures women to get married and have kids by a certain age. The older I get, the more I realise that it’s entirely my decision to make both marriage and kids happen. The main thing for me is independence. Sure, I have Bo but I want to have a child when both of us are comfortable. Love isn’t enough for such a huge decision; I feel that personal growth as a woman is vital first before pursuing motherhood. My mom raised my younger brother and me as a single parent, my wish is to have a solid family where my child is raised by both parents. And even if that happens, I also want my child to look at me and admire my independence and see that I’ve contributed in them having a comfortable life. This year has been amazing. I’ve been busy at work. We’re also working on a comeback for Boom Shaka because we still get booked every other weekend. My contract at Rhythm City has been extended so I’m now one of the leads. Competition in the industry doesn’t affect me. The more you grow, the more comfortable you are with yourself. You focus on what you want to do, and work on creating that. Growing up is a blessing because you get wisdom and strength to handle anything thrown your way.
“From the start of my career I vowed I’d never grow arrogant and use my name or how long I’ve been in the industry to get by.