20 years of Unathi Nkayi – 'You have to create your own happiness'

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Last month, Unathi celebrated 20 years  in the entertainment industry and looks forward to 20 more years to come.
Last month, Unathi celebrated 20 years in the entertainment industry and looks forward to 20 more years to come.
Oupa Bopape/Galloimages

She is known for being quite vocal. If there are issues of abuse, bullying, unfair treatment, she will address it with no holds barred.

And because of her outspoken nature, Idols SA judge and singer Unathi Nkayi (42) recently got chosen to be part of the Fattis and Monis parody party campaign called Freedom Party.

The weekly cooking contest will go live on Instagram every Wednesday and cooks will use easily available ingredients to make, quick and delicious pasta dishes and the president of the parody party, Unathi Nkayi with her Ministers will decide on the best dish.

While many haven’t witnessed her culinary prowess, the mom of two says she’s a whizz in the kitchen.

“I don’t know why people think I can’t cook; I have children and an ex-husband who I used to cook for.”

Unathi says she gets her love of good food from her mother. “My mom is a phenomenal cook,” Unathi says.

“I spoke to her not long ago and she was baking strawberry cheesecake and lemon meringue. She has always been great in the kitchen as well as my older sister. Now that we have grown and financially stable so on big celebrations like Christmas, we always chip in and make a feast. Each one makes their own dishes, and we get together to eat,” Unathi says.

This coming Mother’s Day, she looks forward to being spoiled by her kids.

“My kids always make me card or jewellery,” she says.

”My daughter recycles clothes, she takes my old clothes and recycles them for me. She is stylish but she will not go into the fashion industry. She is more interested in saving lives. She either wants to be a surgeon or a vet and she does the fashion stuff on the side,” Unathi says.

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In April, Unathi celebrated 20 years in the entertainment industry.

It was emotional for her to think how far she has come from the day she left her home in February and moved to Johannesburg.

“In March 2001, I had my very first audition ever for Castle Loud and I got the job as a presenter alongside Stoan Seate and started working in April,” Unathi says.

In the 20 years, Unathi feels she has evolved for the better.

“I have evolved. With every attempt, I have tried to be a better version of myself. Yet I am still very imperfect. I learn a lot every day. I still have the energy to be myself and to work hard,” she says.

“Yes I have changed in that I do not need external validation from anyone.”

Some people may look at her confidence and think she has it all figured out. “Not true at all. I have not always been this confident and self-assured,” she says.

“When I started, I was one of the few women who looked like me with dreadlocks and a thick figure. Everyone came in with soft hair and I needed external validation,” she says.

“But as I’ve gotten mature, I now know and understand that you have to work and create your happiness,” she says. 

What keeps her happy is working out and attending regular therapy sessions.

“When my kids are doing well, I become happy and of course my regular therapy sessions,” she says.

Raised by a clinical psychologist father, therapy is second nature for Unathi.

“Going for therapy is something I’ve always done, because of my father. This time around, I have been going to therapy every two weeks for four years,” Unathi says.

“Going for therapy is one of the most important things one can do for their mental health whether they are going through something in your life or not,” she says.

“I am not going through anything at the moment and I’m at therapy. I need it. Your mental health is important. It keeps me razor-sharp, focused, and ahead of my competitor. It gives me clarity. Just checking-in with every two weeks with someone who will never judge me is important,” she says.

In the 20 years, Unathi says what’s kept her relevant is always being aware of how she makes people around her feel.

“My mother always says I need to be cognizant and conscious of how I make people feel,” she says.

“It doesn’t matter what I do or what I look like but how I make people feel has been the one thing I value,” Unathi adds

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She has often been called names for standing up to social media bullies.

Last week, she called out a Kwa-Zulu Natal man who humiliated her for a picture taken without make-up.

“I will always stand up against what is wrong,” Unathi says.

“Hurt people hurt people. A lot of people don’t have the strength to speak up against bullies. I was raised by a clinical psychologist, who has always given me the tools to deal with situations like these,” she says.

“Bullies are essentially cowards. A lot of people are voiceless, isolated, they feel they are alone, and I stand up be because wrong is wrong and bad things happen when good people keep quiet. I am not going to stop standing up against bullies because everyone deserves love,” Unathi says.

When reports on her divorce made headlines, bullies were quick to comment but Unathi says she has moved on and would love to one day get married again.

“Two years ago, I would not have thought of getting married again, but I am open to being married again and having more kids,” she says. 

“I am happy, you don’t need a man to be happy, but companionship is a blessing. But I am willing to allow God to do with my life as he pleases and if that means getting married again and having more kids, then it is okay,” Unathi says.

Until that day comes, she will continue to work hard. 

“I still have a lot I would like to achieve,” she says.

“I am not big at celebrating myself but great at celebrating other people. I don’t believe in celebrating achievements because it takes away from the fact that we still have so much to do. As a black female with the positions I have been given, I still have so much to do than to stop and celebrate. I do, however, tick off things from my bucket list and I recognise achievements,” Unathi says. 

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