Nelisiwe Sibiya on starring in Durban Gen and why she celebrates her heritage every day of the year

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We speak to the multi-talented Nelisiwe Sibiya about her upcoming acting role and her Zulu heritage
We speak to the multi-talented Nelisiwe Sibiya about her upcoming acting role and her Zulu heritage
Supplied/Nelisiwe Sibiya

She shot to fame as the powerful voice on the soundtrack of Mzansi Magic's Lockdown, Mama ka Bafana – and landed a supporting acting role in the series.

Now she’s back on our small screen in's new upcoming medical drama, Durban Gen, which premieres on 5 October. And this time she’s bagged a leading role as the main protagonist.

Singer and actor, Nelisiwe Sibiya will play Dr Mbali Mthethwa, a newly qualified doctor who moves away from her fiancé and the small town they grew up in to the big city to serve her final year of community service at Durban General Hospital. It also features familiar faces such as Ntando Mncube, Mike Ndlangamandla and Duduzile Ngcobo.

We speak to the diverse, young talent about her first lead role and, in the spirit of National Heritage Month, her favourite Zulu dish and her everyday celebration of her heritage.

How do you feel about being part of Durban Gen?

Words cannot begin to express how I feel about being a part of this new show.

I got this role during a very tough time in my life – my music contract had just come to an end and everything just fell apart. But when it’s your time, God really does show off. I’m so happy, I can’t even put it into words.

To have not just any role but a lead role, with a storyline that rotates around your character, is something I am still so honoured and amazed by.

Most people only know me from my musical background but they don’t know that I can act. So, this is an amazing opportunity for me to showcase my talent and that I can be a triple threat.

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What makes this role so special for you? 

The nicest thing about my character is that she is very similar to me. Mbali is a traditional woman from the village who went to the big city to pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor.

This is the same thing that happened to me – from being young girl from the village who went to Johannesburg to pursue my dreams of becoming a musician.

Another thing I have in common with Mbali is that both our mothers passed away and we both had other people in our lives who raised us. How Mbali knocked on every door and saw so many different doctors looking for help for her mother is also something I did for my mother.

We both lost our mothers at a young age but our dreams didn't vanish into thin air. This is why I believe I was destined for this role and I am grateful that it found me.

How did you prepare for it?

It was not really hard for me because of the similarities. But it's still a role that required me to do research and ask a lot of questions from the writers and the producers.

I really love the fact that preparing for this role hasn't clashed with my routine. I still get time to pray and, although my first love is music, I am still engaged in the making of art.

What inspires you about the show?

The most important take-away for me from this new series is that it will show every young person watching that where you come from doesn't necessarily determine your future. If you want to become a doctor, through hard work you can definitely make it. This show offers that representation.

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What does Heritage Day mean to you?

I don't understand why we still celebrate 'Heritage Day', why it has to be one day or one month. I celebrate isintu (culture) every day of my life. Heritage and our cultures is who we are. It means being black, being umuntu (a person) and knowing where you come from, knowing your roots. 

I celebrate heritage everyday of my life and this is a legacy and practice I want to instill in other black people and even my offspring for many years to come that you don't have to wait for a specific day or month to celebrate who you are. I truly believe that one of my callings and purpose is to preserve isintu. 

How do you celebrate your heritage? 

I think by fully embracing who I am as Zulu woman and living in that truth every single day of my life, of the year is a celebration of my heritage. 

With everything that has happened in my music career, I still want to traditional music, I still want to do Maskandi music because that's who I am. 

What is your favourite dish?

Ubhontshisi obrown nophuthu (brown beans and pap). I am very simple with my food choices, a plate of this with a side of mayonnaise always tastes like home.


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