Thembi SEETE

"I’VE BEEN COM­PARED ALL MY LIFE, LA­BELLED SECOND BEST – AND IT BROKE ME"

True Love - - Front Page - By Dudu Mvimbi Le­sha­bane Pho­to­graphs Nick Boul­ton

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.

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