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Nomzamo Mbatha: Being human in the gravity of her work

Nomzamo Mbatha talks about her journey, imposter syndrome, representation of black women on the global stage and living your life with intention
Fri, Oct 22, 2021

The morning after hosting 1 Night With Mzansi – the hour-long special showcasing South Africa and its talent in Dubai – Nomzamo Mbatha is refreshed, her energy calm but electric. In her marble-floored hotel suite at the swanky (even by Dubai standards) Address hotel, her glam team sorts through racks of designer clothes, gorgeous shoes scattered on the floor.

After our interview, Nomzamo has a photo shoot to get ready for. Hollywood, baby. We’re chilling on the terrace of her suite, and the view of the city is stunning. Thankfully there’s a small breeze and because it’s still early, the heat isn’t as overwhelming as it can be. Her legs up on a chair, barefoot (everyone takes off their shoes at the door) and in a polka dot dress, Nomzamo makes you feel like her best friend for 20 minutes as we talk about her journey, imposter syndrome, representation of black women on the global stage and living your life with intention. Here’s our conversation, edited for length.

While hosting 1 Night With Mzansi, you said something so pertinent: that there are little girls who watch you on TV and think, ‘I can also do that’. Let’s talk about the importance of representation to you, and of black women on the global stage.  

It’s something that I live by – I always say it’s important to become a tangible representation of a dream. When you can see something, when you can touch something, and it’s something that you can relate to because it looks exactly like where you are, it becomes tangible.

For a very long time, in the previous generations, it wasn’t as tangible because there was always the one, but now because there’s many of us, it becomes much realer.

But for me, [I have a] weird thing where I never want to shine a light on the work that I do or what I am. I always shy away from the things that I have achieved until I see a little girl who’s like, ‘and then you did this, and then you did that’ and I think, ‘oh my God, somebody’s watching!’ [laughs] Because I’m so fixated on the building and the moving, because I understand that there are so many who are invested in this dream, I have to make it work. I just have to make it work.

That’s a lot of pressure.

It is a lot of pressure that I try and balance. It’s good for me because it fuels me to keep going. Of course, it’s something that can take away from the humanness of the journey. Because it stops becoming about me, so I remind myself that ‘you’re still in this, it’s still yours, not all of it belongs to those who are invested in it’. I’ve always been a very ambitious girl.

It’s amazing that you’re admitting to suffering from imposter syndrome. Because a lot of people will look at you and think…

… She has it all together, she’s enjoying it, she’s relishing in it. But I mean, I don’t come from much. I don’t come from much. So, I’m going to suffer from an imposter syndrome. I’m going to suffer from those things where there are a lot of mental hurdles that you have to overcome to tell yourself that you belong. To balance the humility, but also owning the power and owning the successes and owning the achievements.

For a very long time, it was a little bit hard for me to balance. I was always like, ‘how do I get us all up?’ [But I had to learn that] you cannot save everyone. You can do your best to inspire, you can do your best to be a tangible representation so that people can see and touch and know that it is possible, but it’s also okay to just live in your truth.

That’s a tough lesson to learn because sometimes you do wanna save everyone.

I was a girl yaKwaMashu. How many people make it out of KwaMashu? Let’s be real about that. How many people make it out of townships at home, and get to sit on a balcony in Dubai in a f*cking suite? And then I’m flying here, and flying there… How many young girls get to do that? You’re an anomaly, but I’m not comfortable with being an anomaly. Because I know what the township breeds, I know it. Which is why I invest in the growth of my foundation because I know it’s going to empower someone; it’s going to propel someone into their next chapter. That’s why I have a problem with abantu bafika elokshin’ with their big cars and they’re comfortable with that, with being the only one. Ak’kwazi. Angeke!

I was chatting with [Yellowbone Entertainment co-owner] Layla Swart yesterday, and I said we’re so privileged to live in this era where there are so many women – like you, like Layla – who aren’t just trailblazers, but are game-changers too.

It’s such a great time to live, neh? When we were younger, like 10/11, humans were evolving every maybe eight years, with time and technology. Now it’s like, every other month there’s new things. It’s just beautiful to see how things are changing and narratives are challenged and bulldozed out of the way, which is why I love Gen-Z.

Gen-Z is just incredible; I feel empowered by Gen-Z. If it wasn’t for them, there’s a lot of sh*t that we would still be tiptoeing around. Gen-Z said [she pulls a zap sign], and we’re like [she pretends to be nervous, fearfully pulls a zap sign. We both burst into laughter].

And you look at a Layla – she’s smart, charismatic, and she’s so f*cking amazing. That is another example of a tangible thing – she’s not make-believe. Some people become so successful that they become non-tangible.

And you’re in Hollywood.

[She smiles] I am. I’m in Hollywood. It’s crazy.

Your journey and growth have been amazing to witness. Are you beyond your wildest dreams? Do you wake up and think, is this really my life?

Maybe the reason it doesn’t shock me is because I secretly know that it is not beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve been a dreamer. But I’ve also been very hardworking, very strategic. My grandmother taught me the power of hard work. Her husband died, she had five children, she was like ‘kwafanele ngibone ukuthi ng’zoyenza njani’. She raised me, and I saw that.

So, it’s not beyond my wildest dreams. There were too many things that I dreamed of, there were too many things that I put out into the universe, that I would speak into the air. Even on the street, a random grandmother, on my way to school, would stop me: ‘My child, God must bless you. You must be something in life.’ You forget about it, but you remember it in the back of your head.

What’s your life like now?

It’s exactly the way I have always prayed for it to be and the way that I have always wanted it to be. I’ve always been specific: I want a job that’s going to have me travel around the world; I want to be able to connect with people; I want to be excellent at what I do; I want to work really hard to reach that level of excellence; and I want to be surrounded by people who make me want to be better. And I have that. That’s my life.

I’m surrounded by really good friends, who inspire me to be a good friend. I’m not a friend who’s always present, I’m not a friend who always remembers stuff, but they inspire me to be present, to serve. I am surrounded by my family, who inspire me to love and nurture. I am surrounded by producers and directors, who inspire me to be a better storyteller. To think above wherever I’m thinking. I’m surrounded by actors and actresses who inspire me to be excellent, and to harness my craft. I’m surrounded by really fantastic human beings.

I miss home, sometimes. But I also know that I have to be where I am so that I can be able to take what I’m learning here and bring it home, so that home can continue to play on equal level. Our music is at the forefront on a global stage – I want the same for film and television. I want us to have a genre that is specific to South Africa, that will be on the global stage. As amapiano is, as Afrobeats is known across the global stage – we should also have something [in film and TV] that we build and harness. We also need to become better collaborators. There are so many islands.

There was also the idea that there can only be one, and there’s only room for one, where only one black woman can be ‘it’ at a time. But now we have…

… a sea. It’s a sea. To be there, as daunting as it is, it’s inspiring. The playground is open for all. Come out and play, there’s no time to be shy, there’s no time to be afraid, there’s no time to be your own worst enemy. It’s the time of the black woman. Step out onto the field. Let’s go.

  • 1 Night With Mzansi is available to stream on Showmax

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