Unathi: ‘I depended on alcohol to cope and survive’

Unathi Nkayi. Picture: Gallo Images
Unathi Nkayi. Picture: Gallo Images

Being in the public eye comes with a price and lots of challenges because you are expected to put up a brave front, pretending everything is fine even when you are dying inside.

This is what Idols SA judge Unathi Nkayi had to bear when she was going through a divorce from Metro FM radio personality Thomas “Bad Boy T” Msengana.

Ahead of Nkanyi’s memoir – I Keep Learning – which is set to be released on her birthday on November 6, she speaks out about divorce, why she left Metro FM, how she was mocked that she couldn’t sing and seeing a therapist for almost three years.

The bubbly 40-year-old songstress said divorce was the worst thing she has had to go through so far.

She had to fake a smile every Sunday night on Idols as things were not going well at home.

“A few years ago, on the day I took off my wedding ring, I was wondering how long it would take for people to notice that I took it off because I didn’t put it on through the whole season of Idols,” she shares.

In the memoir, she opens up about the dark days when she used to consume alcohol every day to cope and survive.

“I had to time it very well. My kids’ bedtime was 8:30pm, so I would drink from that time and make sure I was sober by 5am when they woke up. I needed to be sober for them and the listeners on Metro FM. I didn’t want my children to see me at my lowest. Through my experience I’ve learnt that it’s OK to be not OK,” she says.

Nkayi says she wrote the memoir to tell her story the way she went through it and felt it, and also to take ownership of her story. Most importantly, she said encouragement to write the memoir came from the many women who always asked how she survived divorce and how she lost weight.

Being in the public eye comes with a price and lots of challenges because you are expected to put up a brave front, pretending everything is fine even when you are dying inside.

“Through this memoir, I want all those women to learn to cry through my tears, my embarrassments, my humiliation, failures and disappointments.”

Writer and musician Kabomo Vilakazi, who co-wrote the book with Nkayi, said he cried while writing most of the chapters, Kilimanjaro in particular.

Nkayi said the chapter was close to her heart “because as hard as it was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, what kept me going was thinking of my children and all the people who wanted me to fail.

“I wanted to prove them wrong, especially all the women who wanted to sleep with my husband.”

Nkayi said people were going to be shocked when they read her memoir because they predicted that she was going to dish out dirt on her divorce.

She assures her fans that this is not a scandalous memoir, but one about the lessons she has learnt through her trials and tribulations.

“Unfortunately I am not going that route, but I do shed light on what happened when I was going through divorce.

“In one chapter, The Transition, I talk about being a wife and umakoti, and moving back to my parents’ home and how I ignored my calls. I also talk about being labelled a divorcée, a failure that society puts on you as woman for not being able to keep your marriage together as if you are the only person in the marriage.”

But despite all that has happened, Nkayi says she still believes in love.

She’s quick to add though that “I don’t think I will ever fall in love again, but I would grow into it with someone”.

She adds that she had to deal with abuse at Metro FM two years ago, leading her to say goodbye to her listeners when she was not yet ready to do so.

“It was on a Thursday and my contract was ending the next day when the station manager told me they were still figuring out what to do with me because Glen Lewis had resigned. She told me they were putting me on the afternoon drive show and I told her it was not going to happen. She then told me that I am nothing without Metro FM. I said to her: ‘You must know that you are the reason I [am leaving] the station.’

“The following day I announced live on air that it was my last day. But I am glad I walked away from abuse,” she says.

Nkayi, who has been singing for more than a decade, has had to deal with backlash from people who disapprove of her singing.

In one of the chapters, she touches on her music career and talks about how one of the backing vocalists once sat her down in front of her band and told her she couldn’t sing and volunteered to teach her how to sing.

“It didn’t bother me because I know I have a lazy voice.”

Through it all, she says therapy has helped her a lot.

“I started seeing a therapist in 2017 and to this day I still consult every two weeks. It has been my journey of healing. I am encouraging everyone to see a therapist, it’s the best thing one can do for oneself.”

Ntombizodwa Makhoba
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001
w:www.citypress.co.za  e: Ntombizodwa@citypress.co.za
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