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‘I am not broke!’ – Nambitha Mpumlwana sets the record straight on her finances

2018-04-30 15:53
 ~ PHOTO: Fanie Mahuntsi

Go big or don’t go at all – that’s always been her motto.

She doesn’t like doing anything by half measures and if something is worth doing she’ll give it everything she’s got. There’s plenty she wants to take on this year and if people want to continue to badmouth her, well, that’s their problem.

Nambitha Mpumlwana is in good spirits after arriving 30 minutes late for our appointment at her chosen meeting spot: the Standard Bank Gallery in downtown Joburg. It’s one of her favourite places, she says, and people clearly know her here. Security guards and waitresses greet her warmly and she’s handed a glass of wine as she makes her way to the main gallery. “This is the sort of thing I usually do with my son, Vangile, but he’s away in Canada visiting his grandmother,” she tells us as we follow her around the exhibits.

Her eyes well up a little. “I’m learning to wean myself off him and accept he’s growing up.” Life is changing in all sorts of ways for Nambitha. There was a time when the 51-year-old was one of the SA’s leading TV stars, featuring in small-screen staples such as Generations, Isidingo and Yizo Yizo. She also appeared in films with Hollywood legends such as Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Angelina Jolie (Beyond Borders) and Denzel Washington (Safe House).

But we haven’t seen her since she left e.tv telenovela Ashes to Ashes two years ago – and recent rumours paint a picture of a down-on-her-luck former actress who’s battling to make ends meet. Not true, she says.

She’s working on two projects at the moment and is devoting herself to them 100%. First there’s her company, which trains young up-and-coming actors in the fields of performance, scriptwriting and media etiquette. Then there’s Diva Nexus, empowerment sessions she runs where women coach one another and share their success stories. “These two projects are my pride and joy and I have many people who wish for me to take them all over the country,” she says. “And I will.”

She’s been off the radar while she gets her ventures off the ground, she says – but sources close to Nambitha tell a different story. She’s been laying low due to hard times, they say. Not being on TV has been tough on her financially. “Shame, man,” one says.

“She doesn’t have a car since her cars broke down. As her friends, we drive her around to events and parties and she uses Uber to get to work.” Nambitha has a reputation for being something of a diva.

She was one of the so-called Generations 16 fired by executive director and producer Mfundi Vundla for going on strike and demanding a salary increase back in 2014. She was labelled by some of her colleagues as “demanding”, “arrogant” and “rude” but Nambitha remained unfazed.

“I know what I want and I will not settle for less to please anyone,” she declared. “If that makes me a diva, so be it.”

The Nambitha we speak to today seems a lot more humble as she tries to dispel the perception of her being in financial trouble. “I am not broke, I am not down and out and I sure as hell hate defending myself,” she says. After she’s done at the art gallery we drive her back to her home in Randburg.

Her helper opens the rickety wooden gates and we park in the driveway. Nambitha doesn’t invite us in but from the looks of the house and garden there’s some work to be done here. The walls of the single-storey home are a dusty pink in need of a coat of paint and the garden is unkempt. Two cars are in the carport: a Volkswagen Golf covered in dust and a blue sedan that’s seen better days. According to our source, Nambitha is too broke to paint her house and fix the gate. “Oh, honey, people can talk but I don’t listen,” she says.

“This home is a sanctuary I have created for my son and myself. “I just haven’t bothered to fix my gate because I’ve been lazy and I haven’t gotten around to doing it – not because I’m broke,” she says, laughing at the thought.

“Just because I’m not on TV doesn’t mean I don’t have an income.” She quickly pulls out her phone and shows us text messages relating to a new acting venture. “I can’t say much right now but I am working on an international film deal and all will be revealed soon. As long as I have a passion, I will never be broke.”

According to another source, Nambitha has also been hitting the bottle hard due to work frustrations. “She’s been binge-drinking and attends almost every industry event under the sun,” the insider says. Nambitha admits she loves her wine and works with wine brands at some of her events. “I am a public figure and when people see you dressed in a certain way or holding a glass of wine, they are quick to make assumptions.

“I’ve been working on Umhlobo Wenene FM, I have an international film coming out soon and I have been focusing on my events. Life is good. I am content.”

Nambitha has learnt to be more family orientated and spent the festive season with her loved ones in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. But she became ill and was bedridden for a month after she caught louse-borne relapsing fever, a condition carried by lice or ticks that causes fever, nausea, headaches and joint pain.

“I never even knew there was such a thing,” she says. “I picked up the fever while looking for herbs in my mom’s garden and I became really ill. I’m only starting to feel more like myself now.” She lost a lot of weight and had to “keep a low profile while I recovered”. “This is a serious bug and I needed to focus on my health. I am well on the road to recovery now though.”

Nambitha says negative stories don’t affect her or her 21-year-old son anymore. “My son is my best friend – he is my world.” In the beginning she tried to protect him from the negative publicity. “He would read something about me or see it on social media but he understands he is being raised by a queen,” she says.

A few setbacks in life don’t determine one’s future, she adds, and 2018 has started on a good note for her. In addition to her two business ventures and her hush-hush new movie she’s also been invited to be a judge at this year’s South African Film and Television Awards and things are looking bright, she says. “We don’t know what the future holds yet but I am open to working on a soapie again. But most of all, I want to continue to inspire women.”