The saying goes that behind every successful man there’s a strong woman – but that is just as true for women who are built up by a supportive sisterhood. And one woman who can attest to the strength of girl power is Thembisa Mdoda. The actress, TV host and radio presenter tapped into her network when she needed them most.
And she’s learnt valuable lessons from them that have taken her through some of her darkest moments to when her light shone brightest. Here the 36 year old tells DRUM about the sisterhood that’s shaped her.
READ MORE: #HairCrush: Thembisa Mdoda
Thembisa’s mom, Yolisa Mdoda, was a publicist at Transnet and an SABC1 continuity presenter who exposed her daughters to the theatre from a young age.
“She was so organised,” Thembisa says. “When we walked into the house after school there was always fruit and water ready for us. She made sure the house had fresh flowers. She had to take care of four girls, her husband and herself, but she made sure everything was in order.” Yolisa was her biggest influencer, she adds. “My mother shaped my values. She taught me to have manners and how to be a lady. She gave me my nurturing skills and taught me to love your family first and to take care of the ones close to you.”
Thembisa was devastated when she lost her mom to pancreatic cancer a few years ago, but she honours Yolisa by living the values she taught her. “Everything she taught me rings a bell in my day-to-day life. I often say I’m turning into my mother – the things I do and say, my walk and my work ethic remind me of her.”
Even the meals Thembisa cooks is a throwback to her mom. “She used to make a delicious rice and tuna dish,” she recalls. “Those are the types of meals I make today. I’ve also recently learnt to cook vegan meals, inspired by my partner. Even my kids have started turning down meat dishes!”
Every successful woman needs a girl squad to make her squeal with laughter and Thembisa says her siblings Anele, 34, Zama, 24 and Unathi, 38 are her best friends. “I learn things from them every day.
The day I opened up to the world about my personal life, I had to open up to my sisters first.” Her split from actor Atandwa Kani was splashed all over the media in 2015, and her sisters taught her “not to be too hard on myself and to love myself and to love others in abundance”.
“They make me feel like I’m enough, even when I’m not excelling,” she says. “My family taught me that you give love to your family first and then to the rest of the world, always. “Make sure your home is warm first. I have no reason to envy other people because I’m happy at home – they taught me to love.
Physical fitness isn’t top of her list of priorities but Thembisa values her mental health.
“Author, motivational speaker and actress Rosie Motene inspired me to take care of myself and choose myself,” she reveals. “She’s a true activist and I’m grateful to her. Rosie coached me to be a winner before I believed it myself. “I’ll forever be grateful to her and Powa (People Opposing Women Abuse).”
She’s inspired by writer, director and actress Portia Gumede. “Every woman who has an influence in my life always reminds me of my mother’s stern conviction,” Thembisa says. “Portia has come full circle in this industry from being an actress and writer to creating her own shows like Housekeepers and Sokhulu and Partners. She inspires me.
“Often people need to look and talk a certain way in the industry,” she adds. “Portia is a Zulu woman who doesn’t conform. We often meet up for lunch and she fuels my creative freedom.”
The pair haven’t worked together yet but “I watch her work, the way she carries herself and being around her gives me the energy to want to do more,” Thembisa says. “She guides me, and she encourages me.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross is Thembisa’s fashion icon – but she’s also heavily influenced in the style stakes by her mother Yolisa’s wardrobe.
“Half of the clothes I wear belonged to my mother,” Thembisa says. “Most of the skirts, dresses, tops and blouses I wore on Our Perfect Wedding belonged to her. My mom was a lady.” She’s constantly evolving her style, she adds.
“Right now, my look is inspired by Tracee Ellis Ross. I’m obsessed with her. “I got her entire JCPenney collection online, the suits, dresses, tops and pants. Her look is quirky, fun and genuine. She knows exactly who she is. I’d love to meet her.”