Meet Thenjiwe Stemela

She thinks the Kardashians are amazing, believes social media is one of the most powerful tools for change ever created and that life is just too short not to pursue every dream you have. Television presenter, actress and all round positively infectious media personality Thenjiwe Stemela is just one of those people who, after a conversation, leaves one inspired and geared to introspect, do more, want more and be more. No wonder that Thenji was recognized as one of the Top 200 Young South Africans last year by the Mail and Guardian.

An impressive career

Thenji’s roll call of performance credits read impressively. It includes include playing “Shelley” in Janice Honeyman's “Doodsnikke”, “Mpumi” in Karen Jeynes's “I'll Have What She's Having” and “Woman” in her self-written play “Private Nightmares”. She features in a cameo role opposite Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker in Jerome Salle's “City of Violence” (formerly “Zulu”) and was a supporting actress in Jenna Cato Bass's acclaimed independent film “Love the One You Love”. She is also a writer and director and was a 2013 winner of the Theatre Arts Admin Collective's Emerging Theatre Director's Bursary. Thenji has recently performed on SABC 2's 7de Laan, and Generations the Legacy on SABC1. She also works as a voice over artist, content producer and is the Johannesburg-based presenter for SABC 3's Expresso Morning Show. She has also featured on eNCA's Tech Report in the past.  


“I am highly ambitious,” says the UCT honours graduate in Theatre and Performance. I believe that South Africa’s youth are not seeing the forest for the trees, sometimes. Success is dependent on your own, personal drive and hard work. Sometimes it is a labour of love, but, stick at it long enough and it will pay dividends.”


Beyond her blossoming career in the media, Thenji says that she has dipped her fingers in a lot of things. “We live in an age of multi-tasking and diversifying, and in the media one of the greatest challenges is not to become pigeonholed. In the end, it is all about creating content, whether acting, producing, writing or designing – the advent of social media and speed of consumption has accelerated the demand for a wide variety of content.” This, she says, is where the gap is.


To this end Thenji’s drive and ambition is infectious and her conviction that our youth should get up and go, and make a success of themselves on their own terms is clear. “Read more, explore more, and do not hesitate to pursue self-improvement at every turn.” In fact, she is so committed to her ideal of youth self-empowerment that Thenji plans to develop a discussion forum on her personal website as well as across her social media profiles to propagate exactly that. “I want to create a place where people can come together and exchange ideas, but not just that, to actually uplift one another and support fellow ambitious individuals. Social media and online engagement holds so much potential, and I feel we have not fully harnessed it yet.”


Who does she consider modern day success

Thenji cites the Kardashians as a prime example of not only a twenty first century blended family but also as the realization of ambition and success. “Love them or hate them I think part of their success stems from the clear drive each member of this family displays. It is a PR and marketing machine that has launched a multitude of brands and merchandising opportunities for the family and on the other side, a very true reflection of many of the emotions, fears and challenges that we all face daily. It is a notable example of modern-day feminism at work, too.”  This, she feels, is why season after season the Kardashians continue to resonate with people around the globe.


And while social media, as she mentioned, holds great power for change and adds strength to the personal brands of, for example, the Kardashians, Thenji feels that its power has not been fully unleashed as yet. “The #feesmustfall campaign mobilized an entire country’s student body, the Arab spring changed entire political constructs and it has made artists like Justin Bieber a household name.” But she adds that as individuals we need to realise that we are creating content for consumption. A lot has been said about the user being the product, and, this she says is true. “We all put our best foot forward and showcase our fabulous lives. But few have started using it for anything beyond that. The power of social media for doing good and effecting change, whether personally or collectively, is where I believe we should be going.”


What media has allowed Thenji to achieve

Scrolling through Thenji’s timeline, it does seem that she is having a fabulous life, with many opportunities and experiences captured forever. “One of the greatest aspects of being, I suppose, a media personality, is that I have the opportunity to experience many adventures,” says Thenji. “It has moved me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to do things I may not have had the opportunity or means to do before.” She says that amongst some of the best experiences include the Temple of Courage at Sun City and getting to participate in social development activities, the opportunity to effect change. “The more I get to meet, engage and listen to South Africans from many walks of life, the more I realise that we each have immense power to effect change. Not just in terms of greater society, but, within our own environments and our own lives. We are in charge, and the ability to steer our destiny lies within each of us. The responsibility to give one another a hand, that too, lies at our doorstep.”