Lwazilubanzi Mthembu is an actress, singer and poet best known as Sihle on the SABC1 sitcom, Thandeka’s Diary. She graduated with a BA in Performing Arts from Wits and heads the Live Music division at Word N Sound Live Literature Company. She has appeared in television shows Intersextions, Zabalaza and eKasi and also founded a creative solutions company, The Makers Lab.
What inspired the decision to become an actress?
I’ve always understood that we’re on this earth to do something and I’ve known that mine is to do with acting. I am constantly inspired by my love for the craft and the ability to tell beautiful stories through my work. Even though some characters are fictional, the stories I tell are not. It’s empowering to give a voice to the voiceless.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your journey and why?
Understanding that my talent can take me to places that my pocket cannot. I have been exposed to phenomenal opportunities and I’m not restricted to the confines of any geographic space. My talent is my passport throughout the world. My work fuels me and my purpose and I can channel the influence I gain into what I call spirit work, that’s an amazing thing to me.
What are the joys and struggles of being an artist in South Africa today?
The struggles: the industry is quite closed. Actors are often recycled and the industry is shamefully exclusionary. Another is that artists don’t receive employment benefits such as medical aid or pension funds so it’s a difficult thing to know that you are doing important work while receiving no real protection, not even from your government. The joys: you can do what you love. I’m able to live my dream, which I know is a luxury. I know I’ve risen above so much history and I’m able to dream, that’s a beautiful thing.
How would you compare the local creative industry to what you have encountered in your travels?
I’ve found international governments to be more supportive of their artists. An artist’s role is deemed as important as any other profession. Because of the structural support that these artists receive, they are able to just make art for art’s sake. South Africans tend to make art out of necessity because the alternative is a luxury that many of us cannot afford.
Is there an appetite for poetry in South Africa?
Certainly. In the five years that Word N Sound has been running, we’ve seen our numbers grow. We are learning that our stage has become a very prominent stage for black voices to speak their truths authentically. The medium of slam poetry has changed and that’s what causes the hunger.
What tools have you identified as important for survival along your professional journey?
Firstly, to surround yourself with like minds because the industry is difficult and you need people to re-ignite the fire when you become weary. Secondly, to keep your old true friends close because people will create relationships with you simply because of what they think you can bring to the table. Third is to keep your faith really close because being in this industry is a great test of faith. Lastly is not to succumb to the pressures of the industry, make sure that what you’re doing is purpose work.
Do you think artists are doing enough to bring pertinent issues to the creative space? No, because if we were, there would be an upset in this country. I don’t disregard those that are doing great work but those with the most influence are not doing enough. Image makers who are irresponsible with their influence are disappointing. Not enough of us are doing the work, some choose to post selfies and sign deals instead.
What role have you chosen to take up in society through the work that you do?
The Makers Lab aims to find creative solutions for social development. I use my art to transform our townships and its people. I didn’t particularly choose this path; it burns inside of me so I know that it is greater than I am.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I’d love to be known as somebody who used her influence for the betterment of her people. I want to be remembered as somebody who fought for dignity for all, showed people love, a great mother and a wonderful partner.
In what direction do you think South African theatre and television is headed?
Sadly, I think theatre is dying because of high prices. That’s unfortunate because it’s such an important art form, especially given our history. I think television is going in a terrible direction because of how it systematically excludes African people in their hair, curves and skin. Trying to emulate the successes of other countries while failing to embrace our own beauty has perhaps been our biggest downfall. However, we’ve seen some amazing productions which are beginning to define our industry so to reflect us. So basically, I don’t know, it’s growing and it needs more.