Nandi Nyembe (born August 19, 1950) is a 72-year-old South African actress famous for her role as Nandi Sibiya in Zone 14, the television series.
The veteran actress has remained active and relevant since she launched her acting career in her early twenties. Nyembe was one of those who bravely fought for the inclusion of black actors in the industry during the apartheid regime.
Nandi Nyembe was Born on August 19, 1950
The South African veteran actress was welcomed into the world on the 19th of August 1950 in a town in Johannesburg called Kliptown. She is 72 years old. As it is with most black kids during the white minority rule, Nyembe had a difficult childhood.
She was born to a mother who was an actress and a tap dancer and a father who was a boxer. Nyembe was raised by uMamkhulu (her mother’s elder sister) because her biological parents traveled a lot because they were performers.
The actress lived in various while growing up because her strict aunt was a government school teacher who was allocated to different schools around the country by the government. So whenever she moved, Nandi would move with her.
She lived in various places with her aunt, including Klerksdorp, Carletonville, Botswana, and East London, and was exposed to several cultures, languages, and ethnic groups. The actress is a multi-linguist who can fluently speak seTswana, seSotho, and other languages.
Nandi Nyembe’s Childhood was Full of Chores and Responsibilities
Nyembe started doing a lot of things at a very young age. She learned how to cook and take care of the family at about the same age too. The actress learned how to make bricks from mud before the age of seven. She mentioned that she helped her family in building their six-bedroom house in Klerksdorp with the brick-making machine.
The actress attended the schools her aunt taught. It was through her that she developed a keen love for poetry because she was a poetry teacher. She attended the same school with one of their kids named Sparky, with whom she basically grew up with.
Her aunt, whose husband was a school principal, had an older who lived in the school. At this time, Nandi was the only child of her parents. At the age of 13, the actress left her aunt’s house to stay with her mother, who was now working as a domestic worker after quitting her acting career.
Her mother was absent most of the time she Nyembe had to rely on relatives. While in Mzimhlophe, in Soweto, she was enrolled at an academic institution called Ematsheni School.
Not long after, she moved from Mzimhlophe to Botswana to stay with her father’s family in a rural area called Tsamaya. She spent months there with her paternal grandparents while her father was working in Johannesburg.
While in Tsamaya, Nandi was enrolled at Francistown Secondary School in Francistown. She subsequently left her grandparents’ home to live with her paternal aunt, who was working in town.
Nyembe Eventually Returned to Kliptown, Johannesburg to Live With Her Parents
The actress later left Botswana for Kliptown to live with her parents. By then, her mother had already given birth to her immediate younger sister, Tumko. They lived in a one-room house until 1970, when they moved to their new family house in Soweto.
Her parents later gave birth to her brothers Mandla and Mkhuseli in the city. Nandi and her siblings were raised to love each other by their parents. Her mother developed dementia at some point and started hallucinating. The actress did not go to college.
She Began Her Career in the Theatre at the Age of 21
Nandi Nyembe’s family taught her so much about the performing arts industry. Her father was friends with so many talents in the industry, so his relationship with them easily rubbed off on her.
Her journey in the industry began when South African playwright and director Bra Sol asked Nandi’s mother to perform in one of his stage plays. Her mother, instead, told him to take Nandi as she was busy taking care of her other kids. Nyembe was 21 years old then.
She eventually worked on that production with Bra Sol in 1971 and was subsequently introduced to the renowned play company, The Market Theatre. At the end of the production, she started working as an audience usher there and later moved to the bar and then to the marketing section. She was earning R12 as an usher.
Her young career got the boost it needed after she performed in theatre director Benjy Francis’ play. Her stellar performance opened up more acting opportunities and also skyrocketed her popularity among play directors.
Nandi Nyembe was One of Those Who Started Protest Theatre Plays in South Africa
Following Nyembe’s outstanding performance in Francis’ play, she became a sensation overnight. She went on to perform in notable plays such as Sophiatown, Curl up and Dye, and other numerous big theatre productions.
She traveled overseas with several production companies during the apartheid regime to perform political plays. She was among those who created protest theatre plays to show people how people were living their lives in South Africa.
Their works were not celebrated by the government then, and on several occasions, the apartheid police raided The Market Theatre to chase out actors who were involved in a protest theatre or any other political play.
It was tough then for black actors, but Nandi was one of those who stood their ground against the police. The actress began managing her career herself after the death of her first acting agent Lauren Jeffet in the late 90s.
She was recently signed after many years by the largest artists agency in the country Moonyeenn Lee Associates (MLA SA), for the Netflix comedy blockbuster, HOW TO RUIN CHRISTMAS.
The Kliptown Native Started Her Television Acting in 1979
South African veteran actress Nyembe launched her acting career on television in the year 1979, and she has never slowed down since then. During that time, other black actors were only cast as extras and in small roles such as maids, while white actors were given the lead roles and also had their faces painted black for roles that needed black lead actors.
However, things started getting better when black storytellers became uplifted and started telling their own stories. Nyembe is known for portraying the fictional Nandi Sibiya from 2005 to 2012 in the thriller Zone 14.
She has also appeared in several other prominent local TV series, including but not limited to the SABC 1’s hit teen-drama Yizo Yizo (2001-2004), the SABC 1 sitcom Izoso Connexion, (2006-2007), Jacob’s Cross, the SABC1 drama series Sticks and Stones, and many more.
The actress has appeared in episodes of dozens of primetime series as a guest, including 4Play: Sex Tips for Girls, Soul Buddyz, Erfsondes, and Hillside. Some of the feature films she has starred in include Reasonable Man (1999), Yesterday (2004), and Saturday Night at the Palace (1987).
In 2016, Nyembe was cast in the e.tv drama series Ashes to Ashes, after which she joined the Mzansi Magic series Isithembiso Dolly the following year.
She Has Only Bagged One Industry Nomination Over The Course of Her Career
Nandi Nyembe is considered one of the industry’s underrated actresses, as she is yet to win an award for her numerous roles. She has only been nominated once for an industry award, which was in 2012 at the South African Film and Television Awards for Best Supporting Actress – TV Soap/Telenovela for her role in Ashes to Ashes. She, however, lost the award to another nominee.
She mentioned in a recent interview that her awards are the people her TV characters have helped to shape their lives to become better versions of themselves.
Rumour broke out in September 2021 that Nandi Nyembe had died in real life, which prompted her friends and well-wishers to get in touch with her in a panicked state. The false reports were triggered by her character’s death in the television series House of Zwide.
Nandi Nyembe is a Sangoma
Nyembe is a healer (sangoma). The actress had her sangoma initiation at the age of 17. As a young girl, she easily connected with the spirits of people who died on the road, which led to her suffering serious illnesses. It was later that she became aware that she was a sangoma.
Nandi’s daughter was formerly a sangoma. Her paternal grandmother as well had strong ancestral spirits. She once saved her father’s life spiritually after a forklift engine fell on top of him in his workplace in Johannesburg.
After the forklift fell on him, he was immediately taken to Baragwanath hospital, only for them to find out that none of his bones got broken. Nandi’s grandmother later told them that it was the ancestors that were sending him a message to go visit his family.
As a sangoma, Nyembe said she first communicates with her ancestors before leaving her house. She prays for them to protect, guide, and also help her succeed at auditions and deliver her lines perfectly.
The Soul City star played the character of isangoma in the television series Zone 14. According to her, most of the TV project Zone 14 is her personal story, as everything that her character went through was about her, including the rape incident.
Nandi Nyembe is a Divorcee
Nandi Nyembe is currently not in a marital relationship with any man. She was previously married to a South African man called Bob. She reportedly left her marriage after suffering abuse from her late husband for more than 15 years.
She shared that her ex-husband beat her on several occasions and that the last straw that broke the camel’s back was when he threatened to kill her for coming home late. Bob allegedly also had extramarital relationships with women, some of which he brought home on several occasions.
The exact year they tied the knot is not known. However, the actress walked away from her marriage in 1996 after she found out that she would not get justice for the physical and emotional abuse she was going through.
Her Second Attempt at Finding True Love also Failed Two Years Later
Nandi Nyembe found love again after two years. And just when she thought she had finally found the perfect, loving man, her second husband became emotionally abusive. She left the marriage after he got her close friend pregnant. She disclosed that she has long forgiven him and that they are now friends.
The exact number of kids the actress gave birth to is not known. However, she has a daughter (the former sangoma) whose identity, occupation, and whereabouts are not publicly known.
She narrated in her recent interview how she lost her son in a hospital and struggled to hide her pain through her smiles. She was speaking about how people always feel that everything is okay with some people because they laugh and smile with them.