Getting to know Pamela Nomvete a little better

The Ethiopian-born South African actress has moved to the UK for good but continues reaching milestones in her career.
The Ethiopian-born South African actress has moved to the UK for good but continues reaching milestones in her career.
Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images
    • The actress has had her fair share of screen time on both South African and British shows.
    • Pamela has moved to the UK for good.
    • The lockdown is affecting her but she’s looking forward to the roles she’s yet to play this year.
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    Those of you who used to be on the couch, watching SABC1 at 8pm back in the ‘90s should know Ntsiki Lukhele from Generations. If not, then you should be familiar with Governor Deborah Banda from Mzansi Magic’s Lockdown. Both characters are played by Pamela Nomvete, the iconic actress who has graced our screens for decades.

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    Speaking to DRUM, the actress tells us about some of the highs and lows of her career, how she’s surviving lockdown and what she has planned for this year.

    “The Lockdown period has treated me well. I have been nurturing my body, my mind and my spirit. I have taken several courses online including how to write a series and I’ve been participating in my wonderful Buddhist activities as well as exercising daily. Thanks to a South African trainer called Colleen Burger founder of Body Balance who gave me exercise programmes last year and an amazing trainer I found online called Shin Othake, I have managed to set up a consistent exercise regimen.

    “I’m so grateful for my Buddhist practice and for the dear friends I have gained in faith while belonging to the SGI, a lay Buddhist organisation. Through this amazing practice and the encouragement of my friends in faith and my Buddhist mentor Daisaku Ikeda, I continue to grow and live my life to the fullest no matter how great the challenge.

    “However, the lockdown has affected my career. Our industry has literally shutdown. I was due to start rehearsing a play in April, for the West End here in the UK. Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill A Mockingbird that was a recent Broadway hit. Lockdown happened and we have no idea when the theatre industry will be up and running again. Everything is on hold, probably until next year.”

    Pamela was born in Ethiopia, where her parents were exiled for campaigning in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Her and her sister had to move to the UK to go to boarding school following political upheaval. She spent a good portion of her life there which is where her career started.

    “My career began when I graduated from the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1985 having been offered a part in a play written by the late John Matshikiza. That play launched my career as an actress.

    “My career has always been an interesting one because of the fact that I travelled between two countries. The film Sometimes in April, directed by Raul Peck in 2005, remains a real high in my career. Another highlight is Mzansi Magic’s Lockdown because of working with Mandla N and the incredible talent in front of the camera as well as behind it.

    “The lows? Well that is a constant when you find you still have to audition and not get roles you feel you are perfect for. Ongoing struggle”, she says.

    Pamela is currently in London where she is continuing with her career. She is no stranger to British television or the theatre stage. Earlier this year she made a cameo appearance in Idris Elba’s comedy series, In The Long Run. She explains she got the role the same way all actors do.

    “Like any other job, my agent sent me to an audition and I got the job. It was only one episode and was filmed last year. It was a fantastic experience because it is a comedy and I had fun playing a crazy Nigerian mother who is desperate to marry her daughter off. Things don’t go so well!

    “It was fun working with the wonderfully talented cast, especially the young actress Emmanuella Cole, who played my daughter. There was a lot of genuine laughter on set.”

    Pamela has decided to permanently move to UK where she can be seen both on the stage and TV screens. With so many accomplished roles in a variety of shows, we had to ask her which moment in her career changed her forever and which are some of the roles she enjoyed playing the most.

    “The film Sometimes in April in 2005 was a defining moment when I felt acting had a greater purpose than just entertainment. It could educate and transform.

    “There are many roles that I have enjoyed playing. I suppose the most recent was the role of a woman who was a maid and an activist in Danai Gurira’s play, The Convert, at the Young Vic Theatre in London in 2018. A fantastic play and that role was fabulous. I was able to play comedy and tragedy all in one character with an incredible cast that included Letitia Wright,” she says.

    What could possibly be next for such a seasoned actress?             

    “I am due to play a lead role in a film called The Disinteresteds by Stacy Thunes. It is a wonderful dark comedy about a woman who is losing her family to the media and tries to win them back. The lockdown situation has put production on hold. I am just praying we get to shoot it this year! I feel confident that people around the world will emerge from this pandemic more compassionate, courageous and united.”