30 Inspiring Drum Women | ‘The young ones now call me Dr Gogo’ – iconic actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones

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Legendary actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones has been conferred with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Arts by the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
Legendary actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones has been conferred with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Arts by the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
Instagram// Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones

She got a standing ovation when the Durban University of Technology conferred her with her honorary doctorate recently. 

And it has been one celebration after another for the humble and iconic actress who has been in the art of storytelling for decades.

“It was a very exciting, but at the same time scary, day because I did not know what to expect. I have never attended a graduation before, except for when my daughter and granddaughter were graduating in Cape Town,” shares Dr Thembi Mtshali-Jones.

When it was her turn to walk down the stage and be conferred with an honorary degree for her contribution to the arts, she says her legs felt like jelly.

“It was new for me. I remember taking a bath in the morning and so many things were going through my mind, especially because I lost my father last year. I was also thinking about my late husband, who I lost about five years ago.”

Read more | Humble veteran actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones grateful for honorary PhD

“Those are the two men I know would’ve been so proud to be with me on that day.

"But my daughter had arrived from Cape Town and so had my nephew, his wife, and my two best friends, so I knew this was going to be a very special day.”

She tells us that after taking a long bath to reflect on her special day ahead, she drove to Imbewu studios with her daughter for her makeup and stunning outfit for the day.

“My red gown was already delivered by the Durban University of Technology, so it was waiting in my dressing room. I got dressed to be at the ceremony by 8.30 in the morning.”

After she got glammed up, they drove to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Durban International Convention Centre where the graduation ceremony was to be held.

That day, 20 July 2022, is day she will never forget, she says.

She recalls seeing all these other doctors and professors when she entered the room. And she felt the nerves starting to kick in.

“It was the waiting room and my knees just felt jelly-like.

"They briefed me about what is going to happen, how we are going to do a procession to go onto the stage where everything is going to be happening.

“So I put on my gown and then they told me that the other stuff, like the cap and belt, would be given on the stage. Then the procession started."

Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones
Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones

Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones chuckles when she tells us that she couldn’t wait to reach the centre and have a seat.

“We walked through. And the room was just quiet," she recalls.

"We walked and walked and walked, and I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God when am I going to get to the stage and sit down,” she laughs.

“It was all types of gowns when we got there.

"I looked down, after having taken a seat on the stage, and saw my daughter, nephew, his wife, my son, Sfiso, and my friends, sitting over there."

The legendary actress was the first to be called on stage when the ceremony started, she says.

She recalls having flashbacks of the work she had done over years when her biography was read. And when she got a standing ovation as was being conferred with the honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Visual Arts, it all felt surreal.

Even after the graduation, she says people started ululating and calling her name as she walked out of the centre.

“They were screaming MaNdlovu (the name of her character on Imbewu).

Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones
Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones

Being honoured in this way has made the actress realise how significant her contribution to the arts is. “You know when Dr Kani was reading my biography I couldn’t believe what else I have done, I was sitting there thinking ‘oh my God this is me?’ That is what I have done for these years? So this is not in vain, I am honoured for real; I am supposed to be honoured like that, I must really congratulate myself.”

It's a great honour too, says the actress, to receive your roses when you are still alive, recalling how she recently got invited by the Joburg Theatre when it turned 60. 

Read more | 30 Inspiring Drum Women | ‘My eyes started opening. It was 1977’ – Connie Chiume on following her heart

"God is wonderful. He is good and I am thanking to Him for all these blessings and also for giving me life, because I have been thinking a lot of other artists I have worked with who did not get this chance.

"And that’s not because they were not appreciated, but it just did not happen at the time.

“I know I am standing on their shoulders, they have lifted me. This is not a solo work, it has been with a lot of other artists who have shaped and helped me to be where I am today.”

Asked is she’s embracing her new title yet, she quips, “The young ones here at work now calls me Doctor Gogo.

"Even now, after checking the time for my interview with Drum, they were, like, ‘Oh, Doctor Gogo, you’re still here?!'"

Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones
Dr Thembi Mtshali Jones

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