Thembi Mtshali-Jones is an international legend. Theatre Road, as the title suggests, is a book about the path, choices, hurdles, surprises and much more in Thembi’s life that have given us the actress she is today, an internationally celebrated icon. It is the first of what will probably end up a series of life stories about her. The book is a gift to South Africa and the world.
Thembi Mtshali-Jones’s life is a roadmap to the history of South Africa. When she was born, apartheid was one year old – barely understood by the bewildered ‘Bantu’ on whom it would be mercilessly inflicted for the next fifty years.
But Theatre Road is not an angry outburst about the evils and cruelty of apartheid. It is a gently-told story of a life, a very rich life. A life that happened because of the integrity of a family. Thembi is the embodiment of the saying ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child’.
Theatre Road depicts a life that has not been easy – not always; she has had a fair share of ups and downs, of loss, of missteps. But integrity, especially that of family, and a strong sense of self form the cornerstone of Thembi’s life: this is richly depicted in Theatre Road.
Thembi’s parents worked in Durban, where she was born. Black life being what it was then, they took newly-born infant Thembi to her paternal grandparents. She was barely a month old, still on her mother’s breast. She grew up in the village of Sabhoza where she was surrounded by the love and attention of her extended family and the caring, mindful attention of all the grownups in the village – when we still knew or remembered that a child is a child to all grownups, not only her or his biological parents. She was cradled in love.
The actress she has become is rooted in that rich soil. When challenges came in her life – as they do in all lives – her rootedness enabled her to not only endure those with fortitude but transcend them.
If there is one characteristic that shines through and through in the book – it is AGENCY. I love the book for that. It reminds me of one of my mottos: ‘If you do not like what you have become, who you are or where you are … M O V E!’
Nothing will move in one’s life unless that life moves.
To expect your life to change but do nothing is magical thinking. Thembi’s life may look like the stuff of fairy tales, but hard work, dedication, integrity have brought her to where she is today. Not dependency. Not chance … for when chance knocked at her door – it found her wide awake and ready to roll.
Theatre Road is a book that will inspire not only young people, not only aspiring actors and singers, but all who value their lives and know that whatever they may be doing … can be improved, made better, richer, more startling and more satisfying. For that is how we serve the world, how we fulfil our purpose on Earth … being the best we can be. Thembi Mtshali-Jones is all that … and more. Theatre Road captures this gem of a human being – umntu ngenene!
(This piece was written for the promotion of the EB Homebru list, which has ended last week. We hope it will inspire new readers to embark on this incredible life journey of resilience and perseverance, evocatively portrayed by Sindiwe Magona in Theatre Road, the biography of Thembi Mtshali-Jones.)