Veteran actress and recipient for the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver, Nomhle Nkonyeni, died early this morning aged 77.
After being in the industry for over 50 years, Nkonyeni’s accolades include being recognised with lifetime achievement awards as well as the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality renaming Aggrey Road in New Brighton after her.
After receiving today’s news, John Kani took to Twitter to express his loss saying, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of a great friend Nomhle Nkonyeni… have no words to express my pain.” In 1961, a 19-year-old Nkonyeni co-founded The Serpent Players alongside the likes of Norman Ntshinga and John Kani to plough back to New Brighton. “New Brighton made us who we were, so we had to share the talent. It wasn’t ours. It was for the people,” Nkonyeni explained to the Mail & Guardian last year.
Very early into making her mark as an actress and theatre maker, Nkonyeni set out for a politically charged career in the arts. Taking the lead role, she joined the cast of Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena. The play is based on Elsa Joubert’s novel Poppie Nongena. The plot follows a black South African woman as she navigates her way through pass laws, forced removals and the years surrounding the Sharpeville massacre.
From the stage, Nkonyeni became a household name by featuring on a number of South African soapies such as Gaz’lam, Mzansi, Society, Tsha Tsha, Zero Tolerance, and Scandal! Some of her film appearances include Catch a Fire (2006), Sew the Winter to My Skin (2018), Of Good Report (2013) and Skin (2008), to name a few.
Speaking to Nelson Mandela Bay’s HeraldLive earlier this year, Nkonyeni expressed how her final wish was to establish an arts academy in New Brighton. “When I am no more, I want to leave a young girl behind who will be able to tell our African stories. There is an abundance of talent here, in fact, most of the talent that’s in Johannesburg comes from the Eastern Cape… It’s my dream to leave a legacy behind – I don’t want God to ask me when I get up there what I’ve done with the talent He’s given me.”