She’s everywhere you look these days – turn on a channel and you’ll see her gorgeous face. Yet when Winnie Ntshaba and her 15 colleagues were infamously sacked from Generations in 2014 for going on strike and demanding a salary increase, she wasn’t sure she would work on TV again.
But five years is a long time in showbiz – and she’s once again one of the most sought-after actresses in Mzansi.
Winnie (43) is making waves in Mzansi Magic show Isithembiso, in which she plays an ex-con who’s been released from jail after serving a 20-year sentence for murder. The actress is also casting a spell on audiences as an evil witch who’ll go to any lengths for success in The Herd, and in Isibaya she plays the town’s local mayor.
The meaty roles are a far cry from that of Khethiwe, the humble character in Generations with whom she found fame. But Winnie loves wearing the faces of her many characters. She chuckles at the mention of Khethiwe.
“Oh, those were the good old days when Winnie could walk into a Pick n Pay store without being noticed,” she says. “There’s something fulfilling about playing an evil person,” she tells Move! of her current roles.
“Especially when you’re the complete opposite – it’s therapeutic in a way. And you get to live some of your crazy fantasies.” Khethiwe was such a hit with fans, she says, that people stopped to ask her about her character long after she left the soapie. “I don’t try too hard to be remembered or to stay relevant,” Winnie says. “I’m not very active on social media. But I think it’s my spirituality that’s made me memorable.
“I’m a strong Christian woman whose faith gets restored with every challenge in my life. But it’s funny how all my roles have always had an evil side to them.” Lihle, her character in Isithembiso, is trying to turn her life around after murdering her cheating boyfriend’s mistress. She’s trying to change her wicked ways, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. “Lihle has an incredibly dark side to her. I love it,” Winnie says.
THE TOUGH TIMES
The showbiz veteran admits her confidence took a knock when she was fired from Generations. Heaps of self-doubt crept in when she was rejected at audition after audition. “I spent many months not working or acting. I’d only get adverts and short stories,” she says.
For a while Winnie had to make do without a salary. “I don’t know how I got by. I think it was all God’s grace. Every time I desperately needed money, an advert I shot six months ago would be renewed and I’d get enough money to survive for a few months,” she says.
“But I won’t lie, it hasn’t been easy.” Things got tough when the awards show she’d launched to celebrate local talent bombed. “I started the Royalty Soapie Awards to celebrate acting excellence in soapies. I wanted to commend the actors, cast, crew – even the drivers – on a job well done,” Winnie says.
But she was forced to abandon her project when she couldn’t find funding. “I was criticised and humiliated for having a noshow. People celebrated my failures but I knew that when I came back it would be with a bang,” she says.
Winnie found new funding for the Royalty Soapie Awards, which is set to be revived in November. “I’ve learnt resilience, strength and willpower,” she says. “I don’t care what people say because I know what I’ve overcome. I know my purpose on this Earth.”
HER GRATITUDE AND PATIENCE
She’s learnt and lost a lot over the past few years – from her job, to losing her mother, Bongekile MaMvelase Ntshaba, in 2017. “My late mom has always been my pillar of strength. I see a lot of her values in me. While my dad (Zwelakhe Ntshaba) was working in the mine, she would sell school uniforms.
She raised eight beautiful and grounded children.” She’s happy she spent time with her in the month before she died. “I took her to her first spa treatment on my birthday. Her death was the first major death in our family. I was a mess. But I still console myself knowing I got to spend her last days with her.”
The actress still misses Bongekile every day – particularly when she doubts her parenting skills. “My son is turning 10 in a few months’ time and I get confused on what to advise him. I call my sister, Zodwa, and she helps. I’m growing with my son. He teaches me to be strong, he challenges me and I love learning from him every day.”
Read more: Winnie Ntshaba on co-parenting with her ex
She doesn’t have many friends “because they listened to gossip” so she relies on her family and faith. “I’d never lose my faith – it keeps me motivated, even when I don’t have a cent,” Winnie says.
“I guess everyone needs to go through a dry spell at some point in their lives, just to strengthen their faith,” she adds. “Not having a salary has made my relationship with God stronger.” Her gratitude and patience have paid off. “I always knew I was going to get something soon. And when the jobs came, they came in abundance.”
Now she has her sights set on a new role. “I’m passionate about our continent and breaking African stereotypes,” she says. “I’d love to play the part of a president one day. A powerful, feminine, well-balanced woman who loves her family but has time for her country.”