Thembi Mtshali Biography

Thembi Mtshali Biography

Born on November 7, 1949, Thembi Mtshali-Jones is a celebrated actress hailing from South Africa. She has left an indelible mark in the world of arts, not just as an actress, but also as a singer, playwright, and teaching artist. Her roles in several popular television serials, including Sgudi ‘Snaysi, Stokvel, Silent Witness, and Imbewu, have made her a household name in South Africa. In addition to her acting career, Thembi is also an Associate Teaching Artist at Global Arts Corps in Kosovo and a trainer in Cambodia.

Personal Life

Thembi was born in Sabhoza, a village near Ulundi, Durban, South Africa. Her parents divorced shortly after her birth, and she spent her formative years in KwaMashu Township, where she completed her education. During her school years, she became pregnant and was forced to leave school.

In 1998, Thembi had a residency at the Gallaudet University in Washington DC, USA, and later at the University of Louisville, USA in 2004. In recognition of her contributions to the field of art, she was made an Honorary Citizen of Louisville by the Mayor and received a vote of thanks by the Kentucky Senate. The Governor of Kentucky later bestowed upon her the title of Honorary Kentucky Colonel, the highest honor in Kentucky.

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Thembi has one daughter, Phumzile, from her first marriage, which ended in divorce. She later married Emrys Jones, who was ten years her junior. Thembi met Emrys when he came to watch her one-woman show, “A Woman in Waiting.” After an eight-month affair, they got married. Emrys worked as a business analyst for a London-based oil company. They lived together for 17 years until Emrys passed away in 2016 following a heart attack.


Thembi’s acting talent was discovered by Welcome Msomi, where she performed in his original play, Umabatha. She then joined the musical ‘Ipi Tombi’, and became the lead female as ‘Mama Tembu’. She made several international tours, including performances in the West End and Broadway. Later, she went to the USA to uplift her musical career, where she met popular musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. They toured Europe and Africa for several years. In 1987, Thembi returned to South Africa and joined the Market Theatre. At the theater, she got the opportunity to work with Janice Honeyman in “Black And White Follies.”

Since the 1970s, she has performed on stage for a number of plays. With Gcina Mhlophe and Maralin Vanrenen, she co-wrote and performed the stage play “Have You Seen Zandile.” She won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for her role in that play. With that success, she then co-wrote the plays “Eden and Other Places” and “Women of Africa” with Barney Simon. Meanwhile, she toured the UK and USA with Malcolm Purkey’s musical ‘Marabi’. In 1998, she had the privilege to sing the “Happy Birthday” song for then-president Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday in Washington DC. The song was broadcast live on CNN.

However, she became popular with the 1986 television sitcom Sgudi ‘Snaysi with the role ‘Thoko’. In 1988, she made her maiden cinema appearance as the female lead in Mapantsula. The film was awarded as the Best New Film at the Cannes Film Festival that year. In 1999, she co-wrote the one-woman play “A Woman in Waiting.” The play was based on Thembi’s real life and was performed at Joseph Paps Theatre in New York. The play later won the Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival. In 2001, the play was performed in New Ambassador Theatre, London, and later in South Africa, Tunisia, Canada, the US, and Bermuda Island. In 1999, Thembi won the Best Actress Award at The Carthage Festival in Tunisia. She later made a radio version of the play for BBC 4, and won the Sony Gold Award in 2002.

In 2002, she joined the television sitcom Stokvel with the role ‘Hazel’. She was later nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2004 for this role. In the same year, she was nominated in the category of African Excellence in Entertainment & Arts at the Tribute Achievers Awards Ceremony.

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 In 2009, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the City of Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal Province, recognizing her significant contributions to the arts. Her remarkable journey continued, and in 2015, she received another Lifetime Achievement Award, this time from the Arts and Culture Trust.

Recognition in the International Arena

In November 2019, Thembi’s exceptional service to South African cinema was recognized at the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina, USA, where she was honored with The Living Legend Award. In the same year, she starred in the critically acclaimed production “Mother to Mother” at the National Black Theater Festival. The play was based on a novel by Sindiwe Magona, further showcasing Thembi’s versatility and talent.

A Biographical Account: ‘Theatre Road: My Story’

Sindiwe Magona, the author of the novel “Mother to Mother,” later penned a biographical book titled ‘Theatre Road: My Story.’ This inspiring account of Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ life was released to coincide with Mtshali-Jones’ 70th birthday, offering a deep and personal insight into her journey.

A Glance at Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ Filmography

Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ acting prowess is evident in her extensive filmography. She has portrayed a variety of roles across different genres, from TV series to films. Some of her notable works include:

  • ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi’ (1986, TV series) as Thoko
  • ‘Mapantsula’ (1988, Film) as Pat
  • ‘Stokvel’ (2002, TV series) as Hazel
  • ‘The Wooden Camera’ (2003, Film) as Madiba’s Mother
  • ‘In My Country’ (2004, Film) as Lizzie
  • ‘Cape of Good Hope’ (2004, Film) as Ms. Silemeni
  • ‘Silent Witness’ (2010, TV series) as Zali Silongo
  • ‘Themba’ (2010, Film) as Sister Princess
  • ‘Buschpiloten küsst man nicht’ (2011, TV movie) as N’Nanga
  • ‘Copposites’ (2012, Film) as Constance Ralapele
  • ‘Weit hinter dem Horizont’ (2013, TV movie) as Desi
  • ‘Konfetti’ (2014, Film) as Lerato Cwele
  • ‘While You Weren’t Looking’ (2015, Film) as Shado’s Gogo
  • ‘Bleeding Gospel’ (2015, Short film) as Theresa
  • ‘Imbewu’ (2018, TV series) as MaNdlovu Bhengu
  • ‘Mother to Mother’ (2019, Film) as Mother

Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ Net Worth

Thembi Mtshali-Jones’ long trail of accolades and her significant contributions to the arts industry speak volumes about her success. It is no surprise that she is worth her weight in gold. Thembi’s net worth is approximately $1.3 million, and she continues to serve as an inspiration to black women in the industry.

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By Shamiso Miracle

Shamiso Miracle completed her degree in journalism and media studies at the University of Zimbabwe before honing her skills at Savanna News. She then went on to work at iHarare News, becoming a voice for everyday SA citizens who wanted to share their stories. When she's not writing news that entertains and inspires ,Shamiso is an avid reader and a wellness bunny.

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