When you watch the drama series Shaka iLembe on Sundays at 20:00 on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161), it becomes evident that the story of this extraordinary African leader has deep roots. It all begins with his mother, Queen Nandi, who courageously protected her son despite the challenges she faced – from rejection to humiliation.
Portraying the role is the talented Nomzamo Mbatha, who brings an undeniable presence to the screen. Not only does she take the lead onscreen, but Nomzamo is also the executive producer for Shaka iLembe.
Below, she shares her insights into her character as well as her behind-the-scenes contributions, offering a glimpse into the remarkable journey of Shaka iLembe.
What did you find most interesting about Nandi’s character and life story, and how did you incorporate that into your performance?
The first thought that comes to mind is how she was said to be arrogant, which I challenged slightly by asking: “Was she arrogant or was she assertive?” This subtle distinction became a central element of my performance. The next was delving into her Izibongo [praise poetry], which allowed me to grasp a clear depiction of her personality. Nandi emerged as a figure who exuded confidence, fearlessness, courage, strength, and an unwavering unapologetic demeanour.
In what ways do you think Nandi’s role as a mother and advisor to Shaka Zulu shaped his life and legacy?
She was focused on justice, and for her son to get what was rightfully hers. I believe that as a beloved and revered young woman to have been pregnant out of wedlock brought shame to her and her family. What made matters worse is that Senzangakhona [Shaka’s father] denies the child. Nandi was aware that she had to protect Shaka all his life. She taught him about leadership, bravery and focusing on the main goal – to be a king that earned the title.
How did you work with the actors playing Shaka to create a believable mother-son relationship?
With Ntando Zondi [who plays young Shaka], we spent many days at workshops and spent time on set chatting. I have natural maternal instincts so I became a “helicopter mom” on set. I care deeply for him and I have also formed a special bond with his family too.
What about with Lemogang Tsipa, who plays adult Shaka?
He is one of my favourite performers, and I was genuinely happy to be sharing the screen with him. We bonded over our love for music, his upbringing, and film. He is a beautiful soul, everyone loves Lemz!
What is your takeaway from this project as an actress and a producer?
That we are clearly out of our minds [Laughs]. As a producer, it’s a clear indication that epic stories of this magnitude deserve to be told and invested in. I had to trust the process, push the needle forward, and build a portfolio of necessary narratives. As an actress, [I understood] that women were the original Kingmakers.
In what ways do you think Nandi’s legacy continues to impact South Africa and the world today?
Her legacy has always pushed past barriers and continues to speak to the modern-day woman who is either a single mother fighting for her child or navigating patriarchal spaces. Queen Nandi’s legacy is a compass to hold on to for so many of us.
Watch Shaka iLembe, Sundays at 20:00 on Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161).