Creative Director: Ayanda Sithebe, Producer: Felicia Naiwa Sithebe, Concept and Trainee Creative Director: Tumelo Mogoane, Article by: Karabo Mokoena, Photographer: MluArt , Images edited: Henry Hansen, Wardrobe: Mbali Baleni, Makeup Artist: Glenda Mhlongo, Hair: TumeloMJ Afro Boutique, Production Team: Tshepo Marema, Glen Nkuna, Bonolo Maswanganye, Tumelo Mochochoko & Felicity Vilakazi

There’s a light in each of us that demands to be shone. With each day, we are granted an opportunity to project our light into our gifts, talents, community and into those who perceive us.

As you dive into this story, here’s what to hold close, we are not single entities in this brief occasion called life. We exist to nurture the world and each other, to savor the moments and chase joy. Why this particular sentiment you might ask? Well, because this is a story about a woman who blooms with intention, who walks boldly and selflessly shares her light with everyone she comes across.

She takes pride in her name, STHANDIWE. We are loved, is what it means. If you’ve had the pleasure of an interaction with her then you can attest to how befitting the name is for her. “Stha” as she is affectionately known by many, is a very fascinating individual, an Actor that has many corners of intrigue, we just had to find a way to sit with this artist and hear her tale…it is just a few minutes after 6pm and we gather over Zoom. We have a huge grin that finally our calendars align, Stha is often in between a few projects that tend to her many talents in the creative space. She is happy to be here chatting with us, though online, you can still feel the anticipation and joy all round.

We tend to seek out teachable moments in intangible things but they are often found in the most miniature moments. They are found in moments when you have your pen and notebook out, eagerly waiting to capture the words that stand out but soon into the interview you realize that it was never about the words to begin with. So, instead, you listen and allow yourself to be taken on a journey by a mind that knows no limitations. Sthandiwe knows no limitations. A Storyteller, Mother, Wife, Genuine Friend, Creative Director, Fashion Enthusiast, Uplifter and profound Actor who owes her resilience and brilliance to her child-like curiosity of the world… talk about an individual who has perfected the art of minding her own to secure her safe space but also remaining open and relatable to many.

Sthandiwe Kgoroge was born to a mother and father who both spoke life into her. She was born in Ohio, a state in the mid-western region of the United States, being African, born in a foreign state, during uncertain times, speaks volumes to her demeanour, walk and talk, international appeal is within her. USA was during the time when her father, who was a pastor, was studying Theology. When she was 3 years old, she and her family came back to South Africa and found residence in Maphumulo, Kwazulu-Natal. She describes Maphumulo as a “very deep rural area with a great sense of community”. As a family, they were always on the move, following her father who was on his personal journey of missionary and academia.

They later moved to Canada and lived there for five years before coming back to South Africa. It is clear that her upbringing exposed her to different cultures, different experiences and different people, one can imagine what that does to the expansion of a child’s mind. “As a child, I was always told ‘don’t ask people so many questions, you are making them uncomfortable’ because they thought I was probing but I was just always genuinely curious about people and I still am. I still continue to be child-like in terms of my wonder of the world. My outlook of the world allows me to be curious and excited about the things I come across. I still look at everything with my child-like eyes” she says this pridefully as she unpacks what this worldly exposure, as a child, continues to afford her in her present days. She goes on to describe how she has not been deliberate in nurturing her inner-child spirit because it is something that exists without having to think too much about it. It is inherently who she is and the people who really know her can attest to it.

The meaning of life becomes clearer as you discover your own essence. For Sthandiwe, this essence is intricately woven with threads of resilience, curiosity, and an unwavering sense of purpose. As we delve deeper into her story, it becomes evident that her light shines not only from her achievements but from her relentless pursuit of understanding the world and her place within it.

With a father who was an academic and her mother being a nurse, one would think that her creative interests, as a child and as a young woman, would be boxed away in pursuit of making her fit into the norm but that was not the case for her. “I think they saw it in me from a young age. So, when the time came to tell them, it did not come as a shock. At the time, my interests in performance were primarily in theatre. Having lived in Canada for five years, I was blessed to have had a bit of an insight into the entertainment world. So, I saw people going to theatres and drama performances were a big thing at that time. As a 6-7-8-9 year-old, I was quite impressionable in terms of what I saw. I liked to play, I was always on a BMX – I have the scars to prove it. And I was always exposed to theatre whether it was youth theatre or a church performance, I was there.” She is very enthusiastic as she tells us this. It is such a great picture to paint as she speaks. “I was that little girl in Sunday School who always asked that we act out the stories in the bible instead of reading them or being taught. I always felt like I would understand them better if they were performed. Even in High school, I was one of the students begging our English teacher to implement drama lessons which we all insisted would be a great after school programme. So, it was a natural progression to tell my parents that I wanted to be a performer.”

She further explains that her mother had a slight panic because she did not necessarily have a reference point of any successful South African performers at the time. “The big shows at the time were the likes of ‘Senzekile’…” She pauses momentarily to jokingly express that we were not even born then. “… And other shows like ‘Ifa Lika Mthethwa’ and ‘KwaKhala Nyonini’, so I had clear reference points that I could share with my mother and they also served as great affirmations to the fact that I, myself, can also do this” Sthandiwe held great belief in her capabilities as a performer and remained very adamant in her pursuit for success in this creative medium. What stands out here is this idea of nurturing an inner voice that deems you worthy of a specific dream. It is that in-between moment where there’s a lot that you know but also a lot that you don’t know but you are still drawn towards discovering what it could be.

You get a great sense of how supportive and involved her parents were in the way that she speaks about them. Her father became such a huge part of her journey as a performer. “While I was studying Drama at the University of KZN, my dad was also a lecturer there and he never missed any of my performances – even if it was those 15 minute plays in front of a lecturer, my dad was always there. Everyone knew that he would come down stairs, get into the theatre and watch. I’d look up and see him at the door, walking in as I was performing on stage. The support of a parent cannot be matched and it is, unfortunately, not something we are all fortunate to have.”

She breathes and takes a moment of gratitude as she describes how her father’s involvement extended beyond just being an audience member. He engaged with her about her performances, offering insights and encouragement that further fueled her growth. “After each performance, my dad would always give me notes. He would take the time to provide critical feedback and voice his opinions whenever he thought that I was holding back. That’s why when I did Zoleka and Zinzi, the twins, on Generations, my dad was not surprised that I did it so well. Instead he was singing my praises and saying that of course I would do well because I prepared for it and I have always been great,” she recalls. Her mother and father were always there as her constant support system, always reminding her of who she is and what she represents.

We are immersed and captivated by her expressive anecdotes and eagerly brace ourselves for more stories as she recounts the moments that she shared with her parents. We can almost picture it. Young Sthandiwe is standing on stage, the door opens slightly as her father squeezes himself in. She looks up and sees him, this momentarily grabs her attention but she soon redirects it to the performance at hand as her father sits down and watches with anticipation- a sense of pride flowing through his soft smiles and his attentive eyes. Life affords us many moments to be fully present so that we don’t miss the crucial parts that provide the very vivid yet simple meaning of life. In our presence, we come across, we touch, we embrace, we give, we take, we create, we love and that is the story of Sthandiwe and her parents. The beauty of it is that they will forever be entrenched in how she shows up in the world.

As she recalls her first time on stage, Sthandiwe narrates it as a surreal moment – one that she will cherish forever because of how the transitions have taken shape. “Coming from a big theatre background in KZN to stepping into the Film & Television world here in Johannesburg was and has been nothing but unbelievable. The first moment was Generations and that was very awkward” She smiles and nods to support her point as she continues. “At the time, I had never done any Television training. You might take it for granted and say ‘but I have the talent’ but the techniques are very different. First day on Generations, the whole time I was acting, looking right at the camera and the director asked me ‘what are you looking at?’ and I said ‘the camera’ because I thought it was a ‘reading the news’ type of thing which was so awkward. And this is part of the reason why I will always advocate for training where this medium is concerned.” Sthandiwe was also on Yizo Yizo where she played the character of Zoe Cele, a role for which she was recognised and received an Avanti Award as Best Supporting Actress.

“I still get butterflies everytime I take on a new project,” says the prolific actor with 20 decades of experience to spare. In the 20 years, Sthandiwe Kgoroge has graced our screens with some of the most memorable characters. Each role, whether on television, in film, or on stage, has been a testament to her versatility and dedication to her craft. Her characters across many productions are as diverse as they are compelling, each brought to life with a depth and authenticity that resonates with audiences. From Nomalanga on MTV Shuga to Thuli Yiza on Death of a Whistleblower and the incomparable Queen Mthaniya on Shaka Ilembe, her performances have stayed in our hearts. “I am still very excited about being in this industry and it has been quite a journey- one that I look back on very fondly” Her commitment to her craft is matched by her dedication to personal growth. Sthandiwe speaks so intentionally about the importance of remaining a student of life, always open to learning and growing.

She has a way of bringing you into her world that makes you want to stay there, just like a kid wiggling your feet in the air, mermosied by this sweet story. It simply makes you want to live your life to the fullest. As she speaks there’s a contagious aura of peace and comfort that sits right at the edge of one’s spirit. Sthandiwe attributes much of her success to God. “I praise God and I thank my parents for taking the time to teach me about faith. I think it is what I have held on to. I mean it is not an easy industry, as you know, there are months of not working, some people give up. But for me, more than anything God has really held me up in good and not so good moments”. Having been raised in a church, it would seem very fitting for her to be embalmed in her spirituality. However, beyond that, what we sense as she speaks is that she has cultivated her own relationship with God – a relationship that allows her to be who she truly is and is the source of her light.

It’s people like Sthandiwe Kgoroge who make one proud to be themselves. Beyond taking pride in who she is, she also prides herself in her South African heritage and who we can truly be as performers and creatives if we just tapped into our uniqueness. “What sets us apart as South African performers is indigenous knowledge. We come from a background that is very rooted in who we are as Africans and we bring that. Our stories, as they are, are just very grounded in us being authentically African. Nobody else is like us. Yes, there’s the continent of Africa but then there’s South Africa which is such a diverse country on its own. So can you imagine the stories that can come from that alone?”

Shaka Ilembe created an uproar in the creative landscape of storytelling in South Africa. It brought about a sense of pride and belonging for many of the creatives and performers that were involved in the making of it but also to the country at large. With an ensemble cast, this Television series transcended the storytelling regime in South Africa. Sthandiwe Kgoroge plays the role of Queen Mthaniya. She attributes her genuine pride in the history of this story which, for her, is the biggest reason why she is able to be immersed in Queen Mthaniya and tell her story so beautifully. “Sadly, not much is captured about such an important figure like Queen Mthaniya. A whole province is named after her ‘ngiya kwelika Mthaniya’. The fact that she is not captured enough in books really breaks my heart but it proves the importance of documenting and archiving our stories because, if we don’t, we will be lost in the books of life. I believe each actor in this show was hand-picked, before they were even born, to tell the lives of these great people! Bayede!” Queen Mthaniya is described as a strong, dignified and strategic woman who took over the reigns after the husband died and became one of the very big influences in who Shaka became. It has never just been about telling African stories, it’s always been about telling them right. This authenticity, as Sthandiwe argues, is what gives African performers a distinctive edge.

It is amazing what living with a sense of purpose, regardless of not knowing what it truly is, can imbue a sense of belonging in others. When Sthandiwe Kgoroge walks into a room, her presence is overtly felt. You can almost touch it and it stays with you for a while. But most importantly, it reminds you that life is worth living despite all of the qualms we may have with it. There’s a quote from Marrianne Willson’s famous “Our Deepest Fear” poem which resonates with this idea of not existing as single entities and it says: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”. If there’s anything to take away from the story of Sthandiwe Kgoroge, it is how it brings those words to life. One can only imagine how many people are because Sthandiwe Kgoroge is.

We are at the tail end of the interview and these are her parting words as she tries to put her legacy into words. “I honestly leave my legacy to those who will be affected by my time on God’s earth. I’ll be laughing in heaven, listening to how I have impacted people. Mine is to live truthfully, authentically and continue to make my parents proud. To continue to walk in love because my name is Sthandiwe which means We Are Loved”

We are all wrapped in purpose and ours is to live that out fully. Our gifts and light are needed in this world.

“Life is short, live big and loud. We’re not guaranteed a second chance so go for everything you’ve ever wanted and go in HARD!” Sthandiwe Kgoroge


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