It's been over five years since she left the SABC 1 soapie, Uzalo.
And now she's recently joined the cast of the second most-watched drama, eHostela. She plays Nellie, a sassy, street-smart girl living with her single father Vovo, played by Ernest Msibi.
Singer and Actress Thandeka Zulu (28) is inspired by Nellie’s independence and couldn’t be more thrilled about her new role.
“Nellie is a fearless and brave girl. She is independent not by choice but because of her upbringing without her parents. She turned herself into a bad girl and a hustler.”
Thandeka is happy to be back on screen playing another major role.
“I have done other shows during the time away from Uzalo but eHostela has been exciting. Watching the story build up every week and seeing people’s reactions has been magical,” she says.
Not long ago, she also featured in the Showmax film, Maskandi Queen. She played the leading role of Nomagugu, a talented singer who deserted her roots and love for Maskandi music after moving to the big city but who is forced to face her past when her father dies.
“I love roles that have a strong message and a lesson to teach,” she says.
Thandeka's Afro-pop trio, Afrosoul recently released their new single, Wang'shiyelan.
She's also been enjoying teaching at Ikabawo Performing Art Academy in Durban central, where she is a business partner with her fiancé Sabelo Ngema and Sergent Malishe – the trio that make up the award-winning Afrosoul.
Thandeka says being able to contribute positively to less privileged people is a gift.
“We are blessed to be able to use our passion to help others,” she says.
The SITA-accredited academy is home to 35 children from all over KwaZulu-Natal and charges R300 per month.
“Not many students can afford to pay fees, so we try to help where we can to make sure talent doesn't go to waste,” she says. “We have qualified teachers in dance, performing arts, and music training for the students.”
One of their students, Phumzile “Ndoni” Mseleku Ndoni made it to the top five of Idols SA season 16.
“We are so proud that we can produce quality students who can compete on big stages like Idols,” Thandeka says.
Growing up in Hambanathi township in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal, Thandeka has always loved singing and the performing arts.
After Grade 12, she received training at Ikabawo, where she also met her fiancé Sabelo.
“They were already running the academy but it was not yet registered. I also later did training with the Mbongeni Ngema Academy,” she says.
Thandeka has worked with theatre veteran Mbongeni Ngema in productions such as Sarafina, Jola, and Stimela Sase-Zola.
In 2010, Thandeka ventured into modelling, which opened other doors in her career. She was also a chorus member of a production called Spirit and Bones, which was staged in Pretoria State Theatre and Johannesburg Winde Bra Theatre in the same year she was hired as the main dancer in the Gala Dinner of the Crown Gospel Awards.
“I started working with Afrosoul as a dancer and backing vocalist before I became a main member."
The group has worked with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Salif Keita, and Bholoja from Swaziland.
Family is all-important for Thandeka. The mother of two-year-old Iwundlu Ngema she says she feels lucky to be able to work with her fiancé.
“There are days when we do not get along," she admits. "But being able to build an empire and a family with someone you love is every woman’s dream.”