She's proof that when one door closes, another opens. When Top Billing came to an end after 27 years on-air, Ayanda Thabethe didn’t have another job lined up. In fact, the presenter didn’t know the popular lifestyle show was ending.
"The closing of Top Billing came as a surprise to many of us. We had gone on a short break when the news was announced," Ayanda tells DRUM. Turns out she had nothing to worry about because soon she was approached to present Celebrity Game Night alongside Jason Goliath and Anele Mdoda.
"I don’t know what I did to be trusted with such a big show. But I am excited and incredibly grateful," Ayanda gushes.
The plum job didn't just fall into her lap, though. She had worked on Top Billing for two years, bringing viewers a taste of the good life by showcasing some of South Africa’s grandest homes. "Top Billing was great for me. A lot of my endorsements and hosting work came because of that platform," she says.
"When I got on to Top Billing I hadn’t paid off my house and I didn’t have a fancy car but I was inspired to work hard."
One of her favourite moments on the show was when she travelled to Paris for the first time to meet supermodel Cara Delevingne and asked her to beatbox. "That was a dream come true." And she took her career to new heights when she interviewed Afropop singer Amanda Black on a rope bridge.
"Amanda wanted to do the interview swinging from a really high mountain," Ayanda recalls. "That was daring. I was incredibly nervous, but I managed to pull through. I will miss those travelling moments dearly."
Thanks to her previous job she explored many breathtaking countries, brought South Africans closer to some of the biggest stars around the world and hung out with local celebrities, yet Ayanda has only been in showbiz for three years. After leaving her corporate job as a brand manager, she got her big break as a presenter on BET Africa in 2016, then tried her hand at acting.
"I’ve seen myself evolve from being quiet and nervous Ayanda to becoming a brand. My journey has been nothing but upward," the Rockville actress says.
Besides her new presenting job, she managed to pay off her house and car and buy her mother, Makhosazana Thabethe, a Honda CR-V for her 60th birthday – which she paid for in cash.
"My mom lived her entire life for me and my siblings, and I wanted to make her happy." Her single mom worked as a nurse to put Ayanda and her four siblings through school. The presenter is delighted by how much she's achieved in such a short time "but I’m most proud about working hard enough to be able to pay off my house and car. In these tough economic times, it means a lot to be debt-free. I’m going in the right direction."
Things haven’t always gone so swimmingly, though.
"I have made a few mistakes along the way," Ayanda admits. A few years ago, she opened a hair salon in Illovo, Joburg, but was forced to sell it after realising she didn't have time to run a business.
"Being in show business, you need many streams of income. I opened my salon because I wanted to be sure I was covered even when there was no work coming in." But her business ran into trouble when she spent all her time on her TV jobs.
"I needed to monitor stock, check that the systems work, continuously train staff and be present all the time and I was hardly there. I trusted people to run the business, not realising a salon is the kind of business that needs you to be present and hands-on. Luckily, I sold it to someone I trust and who loves what they do," she says. She no longer has the business, but Ayanda doesn't regard this as a failure.
"Every experience is a lesson for me, I take it as it comes. We don't plan to fail in life, but when things do not work out, we let them go."
It's a philosophy she uses in all spheres of her life. In 2018 she made headlines when her relationship with rapper and businessman Zulu Mkhathini came to an end. The stylish couple dated for more than two years before calling it quits.
"There are no hard feelings at all," Ayanda tells us. "Luckily, I’ve dated mature people who know how to manage a breakup respectfully. He and everyone I’ve dated were in my life to teach me something."
"And when the lesson is done, we move on. You don't need to be friends with an ex, but you can be on good terms."
She’s put the past behind her and has found love again but Ayanda wants to keep her relationship out of the public eye.
"I’m in a happy, non-public relationship. I’ve learnt that putting my relationship out there allows all sorts of negative energy and opinions. I want my new guy all to myself and away from the spotlight so we can focus on work and our dreams," she says.
Her secret lover is certainly a lucky man – Ayanda isn’t just beautiful, she's brainy too.
"I graduated with a BCom degree in communication management from the University of Pretoria in 2007 and got my honours in marketing from Unisa. In 2020 year I want to go back to the books – I have applied to study for an MBA in BCom communications."
With a busy schedule hosting corporate gigs, slaying red carpets and travelling as an ambassador of a beauty brand, we wonder where she'll find the time. Ayanda assures us she can pull off anything she puts her mind to.