She is the first generation of South African 'It' girls. Before social media existed, Nonhle Thema was a trending topic as a presenter on O-access and was the global brand ambassador for Dark & Lovely.
TV presenting, acting, modelling, and travelling the world, you name it, she has done it all. She was born into show business, and talent runs in her family. Mom Cynthia Shange is a former beauty queen and actress, and her late father, Derrick Thema, was a journalist.
Having done it all and experienced fame from a young age, Nonhle is no longer in the limelight anymore. She now wants to leave a lasting legacy. She dedicates herself to mentoring the “next Nonhles” through her academy Talent Coaching Academy.
“There is not a single goal I set in my 20s and 30s that I did not achieve in my career. I have done it all. Fame doesn’t excite me anymore. I am at a different phase of my life than I was in my 20s and early 30s. Now I am about giving back,” she tells Drum.
After travelling to the US, Nonhle got the idea to start her own academy back home.
“When I travelled to LA, I used to do acting classes hosted by a prominent actor. I experienced many facilities there which hosted talent classes to help sharpen my knowledge and understanding of the business. We have schools, and universities, and talent is not included in the syllabus," she says.
“We are an agency as well as a talent school that operates on weekends. We take our students to experience what it is like to work on real film and TV sets. We give practicals and theory. The academy focuses on film, acting, behind the scenes, script writing, and all the things that I am passionate about and have experience in,” she says.
“The students get a first-hand experience of the real world.”
She started Talent Coaching Academy in 2018 with just four students whose parents believed in her. Today, she mentors and teaches 55 talents, and the number is still growing.
“I opened the academy because I wish I had this type of grooming,” she says. “Yes, my mom and dad groomed me because they were in the business. But there are many young people who don’t know where to start."
“Some want to act but they are not aware of everything else that comes with it. I got the opportunity to watch my mom and my dad, and I grew up in the industry. So, at the academy we train the students on how to navigate becoming famous over and above the talent,” she says.
Nonhle’s academy takes students from as young as five years old.
“We also groom for beauty pageants using my mom’s experience who helps out often.
"Some of the learners have moved on to have acting roles in major TV shows and theatre. We have radio presenters such as Fae Fae from YFM, who comes from the academy, and many others.”
Nonhle recently lost her dad who was a big part of her career journey. She confirmed his passing on social media, saying he was one of a kind.
“One of a Kind Derrick Thema my father I Love You. Forever, a King. Rest easy daddy, I got you, say hello to the rest of the Thema family for me. Thank you for raising me and my siblings. You're a king. Rest in Heaven,” she shared.
Nonhle tells Drum that that grief is not easy. “My dad's passing changed a lot of things about me,” she says.
“The pain of losing a parent is an excruciatingly painful experience and it is not something that just goes away overnight. I don’t think it ever goes away but you learn to live with it.
“But it has taught me to appreciate what I have and to forgive more and keep going. My dad taught me that no matter what is going on, keep going.
“I am so blessed to still have my mom around. I just want to be a light to people and never lose my joy and peace and the fact that God is alive, and everything works out in my favour.
"Everything that happens is to help me grow.”
It took some years and experience for Nonhle to gain wisdom, she admits.
“I am creating a better version of myself every day. I have learned from past mistakes, and I am never too hard on myself.”
This year, the mom of one is 40 years old. “Forty and fabulous,” she says.
“I am so grateful to still be healthy, happy, vibrant, and looking good at this age.
"In this industry, we have lost many peers and to even reach this age is a blessing.
"I was able to live all my dreams early in life. Being on billboards, acting, presenting, travelling to the US – I have done it all.
“People worry about ageing and not staying relevant. I was never worried about ageing. I always saw it as a gift. I feel blessed to be getting older and still live to see generations after I grow. That is what I am all about.
"This is my season," she says emphatically.
"I’m about other people and kids. I spent most of my life chasing dreams. They all came true, but I wasn’t fulfilled at the end of the day. Now I am.
"I get fulfilment in making my dreams come true, and it’s my duty to take back the cycle and make my students' dreams as good as mine were.
"I have been praying about why I’m still here, and the answer still comes that I have a purpose. This is my purpose."