Nandi Nyembe: I'm free and loving it

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Abuse survivor Nandi Nyembe during an interview at her apartment in the Northern surburbs. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Abuse survivor Nandi Nyembe during an interview at her apartment in the Northern surburbs. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press

Two men she loved abused her, one physically and the other emotionally, but acting legend Nandi Nyembe found the strength to walk away and  she is still breathing.

‘Ngenani bantwana bami (Come inside, my children),” legendary actress and storyteller Nandi Nyembe welcomes us with a friendly smile into her tiny apartment in the northern suburbs when we meet with her to talk about her role in a new, gripping M-Net drama, Still Breathing.

Dressed in a floral dress and sporting a curly Afro wig, Mam’ Nyembe, who is best known for playing Nandi Sibiya on SABC1’s Zone 14, opens up about playing the role of Innocent, a maid who was in an abusive marriage.

Mam’ Nyembe allegedly suffered abuse from her late husband, Bob, for more than 15 years

She also reflects on how in real life she suffered abuse at the hands of two men she loved.

“I recently left my children and grandchildren because I wanted to live alone in peace. I am happy here,” she grins, as she leans on a couch.

The 69-year-old’s character on Still Breathing – a13-part drama about family, love and betrayal –mirrors her real-life experience.

Mam’ Nyembe allegedly suffered abuse from her late husband, Bob, for more than 15 years.

When she walked down the aisle with Bob, she says the pair were a match made in heaven.

“We were such a cute couple and everyone was envious of our relationship, until he showed me his true colours.”

She told City Press that it was cathartic playing Innocent because the role challenged her, although it opened the wounds of her abusive relationship.

“I really loved Bob dearly. I had hope that one day he would change,” she says as she looks down.

She shares how Bob used to have a small contact book with only his girlfriends’ phone numbers.

“At some point I was like his secretary.

His behaviour became worse; he started disrespecting me by bringing women into our matrimonial home
Nandi Nyembe

“I remember one day one of his girlfriends called our landline. When I told her I was Bob’s wife she was shocked because he had lied [and told] her that I was his aunt,” she recalls.

Bob allegedly came home that night fuming and confronted her on why she had told his girlfriend that they were married.

“He pulled my braids and beat me,” she says.

She says it wasn’t the first time he had beaten her.

Mam’ Nyembe says Bob even told her that she was old and he wanted to date young blood.

“His behaviour became worse; he started disrespecting me by bringing women into our matrimonial home.”

She says the last straw was when one night Bob came home drunk and asked who was the owner of the company car that had dropped her off earlier and why she had come home late from work.

“At that time I was working at The Market theatre and I used to knock off around 12am. There was nothing new about that day, I had knocked off at the usual time.

Nandi Nyembe
Nandi Nyembe explaining the abuse she faced. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

“He took a gun from the safe and told me that he was going to kill me that night and dig a grave in the yard. He beat me and even though I was helpless he didn’t stop.”

She says she got an opportunity to escape, but he followed her.

“While I was running for my life, trying to go to the nearest police station, I could hear gunshots until I ran into a nearby house to ask for help. The good Samaritan gave me a dress to cover my body.”

She says she went to the police station but a police officer refused to record the case. Instead he told her that it was a family affair and a matter between two people, therefore they should solve it privately.

“Justice failed me that day. I knew that I wouldn’t win this battle and the best thing to do was to walk away. In 1996 I finally walked away from my marriage and I never went back to him.”

Two years later, Nyembe fell in love with another man. She was happy that she had finally found the perfect, loving man. But she was wrong. He was emotionally abusive.

“The worst was when he got my close friend pregnant. I had to let him go. I have forgiven him and we are friends now,” she says.

Through all the trials and tribulations, Mam’ Nyembe hasn’t given up on love and marriage. She says that if she had to write a script, it would be about her life and journey.

“Through all the life challenges, I am still breathing.”

Still Breathing will air on Thursdays at 8pm from February 27 on M-Net (DStv Channel 101)


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