The last two years haven’t been the easiest for Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa – with her personal life being fodder for the tabloids and having to deal with vicious social media trolls. However, the growth in her career and brand has been peaking. She says, inwardly, she has never felt happier and stronger. Focused, determined, blooming and more powerful in her own right, this is Empress Enhle
It is a cold Sunday morning in May, Mother’s Day, and the TRUELOVE crew is waiting patiently at the sublime Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa in Sandton. The air is thick with anticipation as we await Enhle Mbali’s arrival on set, and against my usual practice, I agree that we quietly go through her social media posts for reference. I have been deliberately avoiding her social media because I wanted to experience her in person. As I go through her Instagram page, I am struck by the stark difference embedded in my memory of her from many years ago, and the woman I am now seeing on social media. She is visibly different, confident, poised – even her voice sounds different. This is not the naive young girl called Precious whom we first met in 2005 through the drama series Tshisa, on SABC1: this is Enhle, a woman living in our times and on her terms. The passing of time … it has been many years indeed. Enhle arrives 30 minutes later, and yet perfectly on time as the make-up department has just announced that they are ready for her. She is dressed casually in jeans, a T-shirt, Dior sneakers and a trench coat. She now wears her hair short in a tight blonde crop, which works for her stunning and delicate features. It actually makes her look even younger than her years.
She carries a very easy energy about her, almost as if she has not a care in the world. Not at all like the woman who is supposedly going through the biggest fight of her life. This is a woman on top of her game, and she knows it. Why else would she be so calm, when so many in her position would just shrivel up and never leave the house?
Her dressing room suddenly comes to life upon her arrival, and her all-female team assembles around her. They are clearly a close-knit family of friends and colleagues, which is inevitable given how fickle the industry’s “friendships” can be. We all gravitate towards kindred spirits and those with a vested interest in seeing us win.
The mood is light and easy as we banter about fashion, men and even eating ting – a Batswana delicacy – and atchaar, much to the other ladies’ horror; they clearly can’t stand atchaar, and have never tasted the sweet sourness of ting on a cold day. Enhle and I even try to persuade the non-believers in the room of the desirability of these local delicacies, as we marvel at how much we love this pickled mango condiment and the latest jalapeno variation.
We might now be in Sandton, but we are truly township-raised girls through and through, and atchaar is our hill.
The conversation soon picks up pace as we gather to discuss Sunday newspaper headlines. The conversation turns to the question of “the right age to marry”. The room is full of strong, well-read and opinionated women, so there is no shortage of diverse views on “the right age” and the “right age gap” between partners. Then Enhle speaks, “I don’t think parents can ever deny a grown child their blessing when they want to get married. The success of a marriage is not determined by age; it is determined by marrying someone who shares the same values as you.” After this assertion, there is really nothing more to say.
We then go through to make-up and the shoot starts. Our star takes direction and carries each look like a pro. We’re working with a professional, who at 33, with multiple international entertainment and fashion awards, has been in front of the cameras for half her life.
“I started my career at 15 and got my lead character role at 17 with Tshisa, and back then, because I was so young, I made a deliberate decision to keep a low profile on set. I also had no idea how big the show and the platform were, and I suppose that is good, because knowing there were millions of SABC1 viewers watching me, would have been overwhelming. But I was watched by millions, and that forced me to get a car, because I was constantly being crowded in taxis. It was a bit crazy being in the different provinces and people knowing my name and surname. Today, some people still call me Precious!”
“It was a quick learning curve for me. It was then that I fell in love with the camera and our dance began. However, I think I become more comfortable and better as I get older and have learnt more life lessons. I now understand the complexities of human emotions and expressions.”
It is testament to her versatility that Enhle has actually been on most South African television channels, which is rare for an actress, as most are cast based on audience profiles. “To be fair, I was also typecast in certain roles as well, because of my appearance. I think casting directors are only learning of the power behind my silence and appearance, and that was deliberate because I didn’t want to offend some people. I was deliberate in my silence and timidness. I was also very deliberate in keeping my private life, private. In fact, before I went into my marriage, no one knew anything about my personal life. It was always just random whispers because I wanted people to know me for my craft.”
For one still so young, her body of work is very impressive, with her having starred on some of South Africa’s mostviewed shows such as Rhythm City, iNkaba, 7de Laan, Moferefere Lenyalong, The Herd, Isibaya, Queen Sono, and Slay, on Netflix, which is the show she is on now. She says, however, her breakout role was of Lindiwe Mabaso on Rockville Season 1. I’m left stunned by this, as she was already a familiar face when she was on Rockville .Afewdays later, she finally explains why.
“These days I usually get a call to say, hey, please come through for a reading or a screen test. But yes, I sometimes do auditions. My ego isn’t bruised at all by that. For me, it serves as a reminder to always deliver my best.” Looking at her impressive resume, it would seem her star was almost at its peak and still rising when she disappeared from our screens.
LOSING HERSELF AND FINDING HER SECOND ACT
We connect after a few days, and this time, she is at home with her boys Anesu (10) and Asante (6). She has been on set all day, but her day is not done as she must still tuck the boys into bed, so I wait for her so that we can continue our conversation. Her softer side comes through as she kisses them and tells them how much she loves them. They reciprocate the tenderness as she places an additional blanket on each for extra snugness.
“Anesu is Shona for Nkosinathi. He is Jnr because he has his father’s name. Asante means ‘thank you, Lord’ in Swahili. I thought I would not be able to have any more children, and then my miracle baby happened. I had almost lost hope, but my mother encouraged me to pray and now here he is: my gift from the Lord. I wanted my boys’ names to speak to the artist in me,” she says.
Enhle admits to her career hiatus and adds that, at the time, she thought it was best for her family and for keeping “the peace” in her home. “Rockville 1 was more than just a role for me. It was the first step towards reclaiming my true self. But let me first take a step back and say, yes, there was a time I could not work. Not because I did not want to work, but I was told ‘No, you can’t work on this and that’. It was not a choice I made. That choice was made for me, and for the sake of peace, I adhered to that decision. I took that break, but it was a sore one for me because I’m a performer.
“Everyone who knows me, my friends especially, were shocked. My mother, too, was shocked when she was told about my decision to go back to work. I think that’s when she first connected what had happened and why I had stopped working,” she says.
As much as she missed being at work doing what she loves, Enhle says she tried to make the best of the situation by focusing on raising her two boys and being the best wife and partner. “In that space, although I didn’t take the break willingly, it was there, so I focused on building a relationship with the children, and as a result of those years of being at home daily, we’re now very close with my boys. That was the best thing to come out of that situation. I got to learn so much. That being said, it was not enough. No, I’m not saying being a mother is not fulfilling, but there is more to me. That is what I also want to teach my boys.
“When you meet a woman you love, you don’t steal her joy and take from who is she is. You build each other up. And I think they get that because they see me working. That leads me to another point: being open and honest with my boys. I think this is important, especially because I don’t want them to blame themselves for anything. They are aware because I don’t hide who I am from them. My boys love my career; they love watching me when the age restriction permits. They’ve watched Loving Thokoza over and over again. And when there are parts they can’t watch, they know that mommy’s work is pretending to do what adults sometimes do.”
Being at home was good for her creativity as she connected with her orginal passion again and the business of fashion. It was at this point that she came up with SE Preggoz range, a high-fashion pregnancy range that created quite a buzz and demand among expectant mothers.
“I was losing my mind, quite literally, and that’s when I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and SE Preggoz was born. I needed that creative outlet, and this was it. It also paved the way for Essie Apparel at SA Fashion Week in 2019,” she adds. It is also worth noting that Essie Apparel is also responsible for the iconic emerald green dress Beyoncé wore for her Global Citizens Festival here in South Africa in December 2018.
“The time away from the cameras was good for me because of the introspection I did. I dug really deep within me, and for Rockville 1, I could really deliver because I had fought my way back to being on camera again”.
So what did she learn from all those years of being married to an international celebrity – a man who many look up to and considered a creative icon of our times? What does she know for sure, and how much pressure does that put on a relationship, let alone a marriage? She pauses briefly, almost to gather her thoughts, but then in true Enhle style, she answers in her usual, unwavering and matter-of-fact manner that lets you know, this is indeed her truth which no one can counter. “I learnt something from watching Jay Z and Beyoncé, and that’s that two icons can co-exist. Someone shouldn’t be an icon in the home. At home, we are
No one should cry in a Bentley, or even a Rolls Royce
When you meet a woman you love, you don’t steal her joy and take from who is she is. You build each other up the people we met and fell in love with and who we are each growing to be. At times, people forget the essence of who and what they met. I was not married to an icon; I was married to a young boy who was full of life, and he was married to a young girl who had dreams. They made a pact to reach their dreams together, but life doesn’t always happen that way.”
Her newfound strength seems to have come from accepting where she currently finds herself in life. To my surprise, she does not sound angry or bitter about the past ten years. Or if she is, then she is indeed extremely worthy of the acting awards she has won. But I don’t sense pretence – not with this peace that is radiating from her.
“It’s also important to accept where life has placed me because if there is no acceptance, then there is bitterness, and if there is bitterness, then there are ugly actions. It never brews anything great. People do crazy things when they’re bitter. I’ve learnt to live life blissfully and peacefully. I love my peace of mind.”
“So what about all the social media chatter?”, I ask. There’s a lot going on there that does not coincide with the peace I’m sensing? How does she keep her peace knowing that on social media, she is being attacked daily for speaking out her truth and trying to preserve her peace?
“No matter how big anyone thinks a statue is, the truth is that nothing and no one is immovable. We’ve seen through the recent protest action how even the oldest and biggest of statues have been toppled. It takes strong women to topple statues, because unfortunately “statue”, what you stand for is not what women stand for. So either you change or you’re toppled over. I feel it is important for women to fight, because these statues can be moved or toppled. People will eventually see the truth. For those who can’t see that and opt to attack me online, that’s fine. I post about my truth and my new reality. If someone decides to feel guilty about it because they know what they have done, and then I am attacked, I say that’s fine. All the false statues
I learnt something from watching Jay Z and Beyoncé, and that’s that two icons can co-exist
will fall eventually”, she adds. “I have peace of mind now; I have had this peace of mind since I turned 30, when I went on a solo trip just to clear my head. I now have the strength and the voice to speak out and say, hey, this is not right. This was the last straw for me. When I regained myself and re-imagined myself outside of the situation I was in, was on my 30th. I took control. I needed three days to reflect, accept, and figure my next move. I realised that I could control only my actions and my life. What did I need, to put the smile on my face and in my soul? Three days away is what it took.”
I have peace of mind now, I have had this peace of mind since I turned 30, when I went on a solo trip just to clear my head. I now have the strength and the voice to speak out and say, hey, this is not right
“My director at Rockville 5 – we call him Malume – recently said to me: ‘Mbali, I don’t know what you have done to yourself, but ever since you came back, you have walked in with the light. You are not just beautiful aesthetically, but you are beautiful. I can feel your beauty.’ For me, that was also the validation I needed to be sure I had done the work of regaining myself. I might not have everything, but I am everything! I am truthful to everything I am. I allowed myself to remember my dreams, and now I’m living my dream. I can sleep peacefully again. I am the happiest I have been since I was a child. My life is full, it is real, and it is my happiness. I have let go of the trauma and no, no one should cry in a Bentley, or even a Rolls Royce.
I am letting that trauma go,” she declares.
Not surprisingly, she has not given up on her Hollywood dream, which naturally triggers conversation on Thuso Mbedu’s achievements. She shrieks in delight at my mentioning of Thuso, and even suggests Thuso be on the cover of TRUELOVE.
“I’m working on it,” I say, and that’s when the producer in-themaking in her comes out. “So how are you going to shoot her; have you found a location?” she asks.
She ensures I know how I should go about getting a great Thuso cover before we’re back on track, talking about family and friends. “My challenges are usually harder on my mom than on me. I’ve had to be really understanding of her feelings. She has been through an abusive marriage. When she was leaving, this man put a gun to her head and I was there. I had to beg him not to shoot her, so she is re-traumatised by what I’m going through.
“My grandmother still has a scar on her hand from when she was stabbed by a man. So, I feel I have to break this dysfunction. My mother left, and I’m also a fighter, and that is where my strength comes from. I also have friends from school and my team, and we pray together. My grandmother and mother pull me together whenever I don’t even realise I need to be held together. I have let go. I have even let go of some friends who were just not good for me.”
I may not know what the future holds for her, but I’m convinced Enhle Mbali has proven that she can handle even the most volatile of storms. Her life and her career can only get better from here. Her journey has only just begun.