Nomsa Nene’s riveting TV comeback
Veteran actress Nomsa Nene goes over to the dark side in The Herd. Here she talks about the sinister role and reminisces about her first big break
EVERYONE enjoys a good game show, and for years the colourful TV host was loved by audiences all over the country as she gave away heaps of money on Zama Zama. Now she’s evoking strong emotions again – but this time Nomsa Nene has become the woman everyone loves to hate.
The veteran TV star recently joined the cast of The Herd and it’s Nomsa like you’ve never seen her before. She plays MaMthembu, the mother of MaMngadi – and if you thought MaMngadi (Winnie Ntshaba) was pure evil, you haven’t seen anything yet.
In the dramatic season finale of the Mzansi Magic show, MaMthembu evades capture after killing her son. And now audiences will get to know the woman who taught MaMngadi everything she knows about sorcery.
As one reviewer writes, “MaMngadi’s mama is the mother you end up with when the universe wants to spite you.”
Playing the wicked witch is a far cry from what she’s used to, Nomsa tells DRUM. “I’d never played a dark character. I had to do research and find people who know about these traditions and are aware of witchcraft,” she says.
Her hard work has paid off – Nomsa (62) is stirring things up and charming a new generation of fans.
Kutlwano Ditsele, producer of The Herd, says Nomsa “brought a regal power to the role and mixed that with all the evil the character has – it really worked out well’’.
She hosted Zama Zama for five years, until the Lotto draw took over in 2000. Nomsa is still sad at how it all ended. “We were invited to a hotel in Sandton for dinner,” she recalls. “We were under the impression we’d be given good news about Zama Zama, but instead we were given a week to find other jobs.”
The abrupt ending left her feeling disrespected and unappreciated, but she picked herself up and kept on moving. She left showbiz and started working as an estate agent before starting her own business, Nomsa Nene Properties.
Her company sells property in Gauteng and the Western
Cape but getting it off the ground was tough. “For the first year I battled because I didn’t know anyone,” she says. Soon she found her feet and was not only selling homes, but also winning awards for her work. “Eish, I love property so much. I grew up wishing I had my own room,” Nomsa says. “Seven of us lived in a two-room house. I loved the idea of selling houses with separate rooms. “Nowadays I live and work in [ Joburg’s] northern suburbs, but I still have my own room at the back of our Orlando East family home. That’s where I go every weekend for the energy, the beat, the soul which is found only in Soweto.”
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Born and raised in Soweto, Nomsa was the eldest of three children. Her younger brothers, Lesley and Themba, have both passed on. She was raised by her late mom, Rina Nene, and grandmother, Lenah Nene, after her father, Norris Nkosi, and her mom separated when she was a girl. Nomsa says she gets her performing talent and love of showbiz from her dad. “My father is well-known in Soweto and he was in the arts too. He used to sing and tap dance in his day. He also worked at the SABC, where he oversaw props for TV shows, long ago.”
It was her dad who encouraged Nomsa to follow her dream. At the age of six she landed her first TV appearance in an advert after Norris and his then-partner, legendary singer and actress Abigail Kubeka, took her to an audition. “I was young and wasn’t really aware of what was going on. There were lights and cameras and I was just so excited.”
That was the start of a career spanning decades.
After matriculating, Nomsa joined playwright Gibson Kente’s theatre company and was the first black lead actress to perform at The Market Theatre in Joburg. She made her mark in theatre in the 1970s adaptation of Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena), where she played a young woman whose world is torn apart by apartheid laws.
The play was one of the few at the time in which black and white actors were permitted to be on stage together, she recalls.
“White actors used to be painted black in order to portray black people because we weren’t allowed to perform on the same stages. That’s why there was township theatre and town theatre.”
But the play broke boundaries and became such a hit the cast toured the world with Nomsa starring on stages across South Africa and in New York City, earning her the first of many acting awards.
Based on the novel by Elsa Joubert, it will soon be turned into a film and Nomsa will be playing Poppie’s mom.
BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Having made a name for herself in the property business, Nomsa was in no hurry to return to acting.
“I kept ignoring the emails I got to be in shows because my soul wasn’t ready at the time. Even the Lockdown team contacted me, but I wasn’t ready then.
“Eventually Broken Vows asked me to join their cast in 2016 and something in me said, ‘ Yes. Go for it’,” she says.
Nomsa hired an acting coach to brush up on her skills. She wanted to make sure she’d be ready to hit the ground running and keep up with her co-stars when she arrived on set.
In April this year she joined the cast of The Herd for its second season.
She’s been married twice – first to actor Peter Sephuma and later businessman Roberto Abega-Ayissi, but both marriages ended in divorce. Nomsa didn’t have kids with either of her exes but in a previous interview with DRUM she told us she’d made peace with not having children ( A new start, 6 April 2017). “I learnt to accept it was God’s will for me.
“I was meant to raise my nieces and nephews.”
Having seen how her mom and gogo battled to raise three kids, Nomsa was “in no rush” to have her own.
“I didn’t want my children to grow up the same way we did, with too little to go around and in poverty,” she says.
But the businesswoman and entertainer says she’s learnt a lot from her marriages. “Our parents would tell us to bekezela
kuzolunga (hold on, it will work out) even when things are spiralling out of control. But some men want to boss you and want you to be under their control. You need both partners to have a common goal for a marriage to work.”
‘I ignored emails to be on shows because my soul wasn’t ready’
FAR LEFT: Nomsa as MaMthembu on The Herd. LEFT: The cast of Broken Vows, in which she played Lydia. BELOW: Norma was an estate agent for 10 years and started her own business, Nomsa Nene Properties.