Johannesburg - They’re one of the first couples you think of when you talk of a power couple. After hitting it off at drama school, they made sweet music together as two thirds of the hit group Gang of Instrumentals.
And when Tumi Masemola and Mandla Ngcongwane launched Black Brain Pictures they took their creative partnership to the next level – their brainchild birthed hit TV shows City Ses’la, Ses’Top La, Abo Mzala and popular prison drama Lockdown.
The high-flying pair, who were together for 16 years and partners in every sense of the word, were on top of their game. But then it all came crashing down in spectacular fashion.
In an exclusive interview with DRUM the actress and singer pours out her heart over their public split, co-parenting and moving on.
Tumi, who’s looking happy and rejuvenated, reveals she’s moved out of the Roodepoort home she shared with Mandla and their two daughters.
“It was traumatic,” she says. “I never thought I’d be where I am but it’s a decision I had to take. I’ve accepted the situation.” Now the 36-year-old is trying to get her life back on track.
“I’m scraping myself off the pavement. It’s like I just finished college and I’m starting all over again. But the difference is I have kids.
“It’s not easy because I don’t have the luxury I was accustomed to and that I liked.”
Moving in with her mother, in a modest gated complex in Meredale, has been quite an adjustment from the lavish lifestyle the successful businesswoman and entertainer enjoyed over the years. “When you’ve achieved a certain level of success, you get lost in it,” she says.
“You think you’re better, you take some things and people for granted. This experience really humbled me and changed the way I view life.” Tumi is rocking long, dark locks and says she’s using the break-up to “find myself ”.
“I’ve been flirting with the Rastafarian religion and culture,” she reveals, adding she loves that it’s about progression, knowledge and unity. And she’s working on new music. Tumi’s debut album, Let’s Go There, is set for release.
“Growing up I always liked reggae music and hip-hop. I decided to do reggae because it makes me feel good and other genres require me to be who I’m not.” Best of all, she says, “I’m able to write and express myself the way I want to.
“I’m a storyteller musically and I look up to people like Lucky Dube and his daughter, Nkulee, as their music is revolutionary,” says Tumi, who is signed under Volcano Records. She’d been operating on autopilot the past few years.
“I was a robot, I was drained and I was in a negative space,” Tumi says. It’s been a bitter, drawnout break-up and the last three years of their relationship were miserable, she says. “The fights had been going on for so long.”
'ALL THE STUFF IN THE NEWSPAPERS ARE NOT TRUE'
According to newspaper reports, the two had a domestic dispute at their home in Wilgeheuwel in Roodepoort, west of Joburg.
Speaking to DRUM, Mandla says, “All the stuff in the newspapers are not true, there’s no court case. We are raising our kids together and we are happy.
“I am urging all mothers to allow fathers to spend time with their kids, just like Tumi.” “We’ve broken up, and we’re moving on with our lives.” Tumi says they called it quits after seeing the effects their frequent rows had on their family.
“The fights were traumatizing. There’s no way I could take back the psychological damage it would cause if they watched us bickering over money I can make again.
“I needed to get my freedom back. When you’re happy your kids are also happy.”
They gave it their best before parting ways, but couple’s counselling was never an option, she says. “He wasn’t open to that. You can’t force a grown person to do something, it’s going to be a waste of time.” And when their romantic dinner dates did little to rekindle the flame, Tumi turned to her faith.
“I was a praying woman. I stopped drinking alcohol and eating meat. When we went out, I didn’t drink. I was boring, always quoting the Bible. My children even said I look like their gogo,” she says with a laugh. Although Tumi found comfort in her faith, it wasn’t enough to save the relationship. “We were already disengaged from each other.” It’s taken Tumi a few years to leave because, “I’m a peace-seeker, I was trying to do it peacefully and nicely. I was also stubborn to stay in an unhappy relationship as long as I did.”
It’s not the first time their relationship hit the rocks. In 2011 reports of a break-up surfaced after Mandla was supposedly seen cosying up to another woman at a Trey Songz concert. Then there were rumours Tumi had cheated on Mandla, but this also wasn’t true, she adds. “They cursed us,” Tumi says jokingly of the reports. “But it’s really over this time. We gave it our best shot, we had amazing times and bad times.”
“For many years our commonality has been the business and the children. But I had to put my actions where my mouth is. I left and I left him with everything. It was the only way out. I didn’t want to fight over things.”
Now she’s turned to her first love – music – after her career took a back seat while she was trying to save her relationship. “Putting your dreams on hold because you’re focusing on other things is like putting yourself on pause,” Tumi says.
“You might not realise it, but inside you are dying slowly.” The experience has taught her valuable lessons. “Believe in yourself and that you are capable.
“Don’t lose yourself in a relationship, have the courage to do what you want to do – it’s your life.” It’s been tough having to start over but Tumi is grateful for the support of her family and friends.
“Money can be lost in an instant, but it can also be gained in an instant.” Yet money isn’t top of her mind – rediscovering herself and getting to know her daughters is.
“They love beauty, I plait their hair or take them to the salon. I’m grateful for the time I’m spending with them because their personalities are coming out. They have all my attention now, they’re my main focus.” She’s sat them down to explain what’s been happening. “I’ve assured them they’re not the reason for the break-up. It doesn’t mean they are lesser or that it’s their fault.”
And while “no parent wants their children to go through this”, Tumi says it’s been satisfying to see her daughters flourish and settle into their new way of life