Thembi Mtshali says SA can do better in appreciating legends in the arts

"Sometimes people just die of being ignored," she said

26 July 2019 - 08:00 By CHRIZELDA KEKANA
Thembi Mtshali Jones says young actors need to also prioritse theatre.
Thembi Mtshali Jones says young actors need to also prioritse theatre.
Image: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape

Even though South Africa only properly got introduced to veteran actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones as Thoko on S’gud S’naise, the actress was already a world-renowned star thanks to theatre and over 30 years later, it is theatre that will see her receive a high honour in the States.

It was recently announced that the actress, who is now on’s Imbewu as MaNdlovu, will be honoured with a Living Legend Award at the 2019 National Theatre Festival, taking place in North Carolina.

"It's really an honour to receive this award. For so many reasons but the most important being that I am still alive to smell these flowers I am being given."

The actress spoke to TshisaLIVE about why it was important to show appreciation to the older generation of artists and how she felt the US did it better than Mzansi.

"I really admire how the Americans give so much respect to the older generation of the actors. They celebrate them and they'll always have them at the festival and have them doing workshops and just involving them. They really keep them alive. Unlike here, where they think we are just dinosaurs, which is unfortunate because it's important to keep their spirit alive and to be appreciated while you are still.

"Sometimes people just die of being ignored... because that depresses you as an older person. You think to yourself, I used to be 'so and so and I used to be that' but nobody cares anymore. People die and they die being very depressed and being lonely, we as an industry need to more. We need to do better."

The 69-year-old explained that she would be jetting off to collect her award and to perform a one-woman show called Mother to Mother written by Sindiwe Magona and directed by Janice Honeyman, something she explained was an even bigger honour than the award itself.

Thembi said long before she was considered a star in SA, she was already travelling the world thanks to Ipi Intombi. The 1974 musical by South African writers Bertha Egnos Godfrey and her daughter Gail Lakier, telling the story of a young black man leaving his village and young wife to work in the mines of Johannesburg.

The actress found it ironic that to date South Africa still didn’t prioritise theatre when it can be considered the one space where actors are sharpened. Instead of only going for TV because of the immediate fame it comes with.

"Theatre will always be my true love. I love how as you give on stage, you are able to see the audience receive what you are giving them, TV can't give you. It's a unique but wonderful experience, that not only challenges you but makes you a better performer."