The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WHEN Zimbabwe was going through economic times, Zenzo Nyathi’s wife left him.
This, he recalls, was during the years 2005 and 2007 when things were not going well for him financially. That particular economic crisis swept all before it and TV stars were not spared.
At that time, Nyathi had already made his name as an actor of note, starring in memorable stage productions while giving an irresistible portrayal of Mzambane in Amakhosi’s flagship soapie, Amakorokoza.
So real and authentic was Nyathi’s portrayal of the desperate, wealth-seeking gold panner that the name Mzambane has stuck with him ever since.
However, while he had dazzled on stage and in front of the camera, it was not reflected in his pockets. It would lead to the departure of his wife, who followed thousands of other Zimbabweans in making the great trek South of the Limpopo.
When she left, both husband and wife had felt that this was the best decision for a young couple facing up to the realities of raising two young children in economically challenging times.
“She didn’t run away from me,” Nyathi revealed to Sunday Life.
“This was a collective decision and I remember that at the time our plan was for her to open her own salon because that was what she had always been interested in. I remember I was always hanging around Tashi (Sarah Mpofu) and so I hoped she would become another version of her. So we opened a little boutique in Matshobana and I hoped that with time we would grow and it would become something special like what the likes of Tashi were doing.”
Despite his dreams, Nyathi’s wife had other ideas.
“That was right around that time when things started getting harder and harder in my life because Zimbabwe around 2005-2007 was not an easy place to live in. My wife came from an affluent family and we decided it would best for her if she went to live and work with her mother who is a prosperous businesswoman in South Africa,” he said.
The bright lights of Johannesburg have been known to dazzle and confuse even the most morally forthright people and although everything had seemed to work out at first, Nyathi’s wife began to change. The frantic calls the actor made to his better half in those days told him that she was not the same woman who had left him in search of a better life.
“At first things were fine but as I talked to her it gradually became clear that this person didn’t want to come back home,” he said.
Eventually, the actor would listen to his heart, pack his bags and follow his wife to South Africa. There, he found out that his talent could not blossom as it had in Zimbabwe, where he had continued to rivet theatre lovers with compelling performances. After trying to make things work, the union that had been sealed in Zimbabwe came to a less than glamorous end in South Africa.
It was during this time of great personal turmoil that he found himself turning to God.
“We talked it over and realised that it wouldn’t end well. When I was going through all this personal turmoil, this was around the time that I started turning to God. I had decided that this life I was living was going around in circles. I was doing the same things over and over again and they were not bringing me happiness. Nothing changed and I wondered what the point of life was,” he said.
Once bitten, twice shy, the adage goes and with bitter aftertaste from a failed marriage still in mouth, some would have expected Nyathi to be reluctant to go into another one. However, in the institution of marriage Nyathi saw a moral compass, one that would lead him away from temptations that plague many people who live their lives in the limelight. When love found him again, he embraced it with open hands. It was this love that would deepen his resolve to become a man of God.
“One thing that I can say is that I never loved women but women loved me. That has always been the case throughout my life. It was with that in mind that I decided that for my life to make sense I needed to remarry.
“I did marry for the second time and that was four or five years after the end of my first marriage. My wife was already a member of ZAOGA and so I joined her there. It changed my life but it also changed hers too because some people started treating her differently whenever I would go to the church,” he said.
The decision has seen Nyathi make a complete u-turn in his life and now equipped with a Diploma in Theology, he is now referred to as a pastor by people he evangelises to. It is a remarkable turnaround in the life of a man who admits that he used to go to church only because it was the fashionable thing to do on Sundays.
“I was always interested in church. It wasn’t a family thing at all. I know most people say that. For me, my mother went to church once or twice a month and my father would go for long time periods without doing so I wouldn’t call it a family tradition. I got baptised at the Church of Christ in 1991 and that was about the same time that I went to start training and working at Amakhosi. That was the time that I got to experience the showbiz lifestyle.
“When I went to Amakhosi it was the first time that I got into that life, I was awestruck and fascinated. Looking back at it I can say that those crazy first days were part of my journey I guess. At that time, I remember feeling like I would be holding myself back if I didn’t go all out and enjoy my life. I continued that way until later I went on to join Word of Life around 1999. I did it, not because I was now a devout Christian, but because most of my friends were already there at that particular church,” he said.
Years after he dedicated his life to Christ, Nyathi says he still gets confused looks from people who do not understand how one can live both as a professional artiste and a dedicated man of God. For him however, despite his love for it, theatre is no longer a way of life but a means to an end, a craft that allows him to put food on the table.
“Some people in church had a hard time understanding my craft. They looked down on it. Maybe it’s because of the way acting has been regarded or the way we as actors conduct ourselves out there. I’m trying to introduce new things to church like Theatre Sundays which shows that as we worship God, there’s room for us to have fun while doing it. I have gradually become accepted at church. I invited church members to my last play, a few turned up and they are the ones that have gone to educate the rest about what I do,” he said.