Nomhle Nkonyeni

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Nomhle Nkonyeni (1942-2019) was an actress on stage and film.

Sometimes billed as Nomhle Nkoyeni.


She was born in Aggrey Road in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, in April 1942 and started her acting career in theatre at the age of 19 and would go on to become one of the first black women to set foot on an apartheid stage in South Africa. She started with the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth in the early 1970s. Then went to The Space in Cape Town (where her mother Elizabeth was a cleaner) before moving to the then Transvaal to become a stalwart of the Market Theatre, working with Barney Simon, and star in a range of TV and film productions. She later turned her hand to directing and in this, according to Loren Kruger (1999, p239) became the first black African woman director of literary drama in South Africa.

In 2005 the Naledi Theatre Awards presented Nomhle with a Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016, she was also recognised by the SAFTAs.

Nomhle died on Wednesday, July 1 2019, in hospital in Port Eizabeth.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

With the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth in the early 1970s, playing “Aniko” in The Caucasian Chalk Circle for Athol Fugard.

The Last Bus – idea born while Fugard rushed after rehearsals to get them on the last bus from Schoenmakerskop to New Brighton. Friday's Bread on Monday.

Athol Fugard's adaptation of a medieval play, The Cure, performed by the Serpent Players, including John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Nomhle Nkonyeni, Grahamstown September 1971 during the 1820 Settler Festival.

Then went to The Space in Cape Town (where her mother Elizabeth was a cleaner), to act in in Fatima Dike’s The First South African (1977, playing the mother) and Medea (197*), her first professional role.

Performed in We Shall Sing for the Fatherland (at the People’s Space and the Market Theatre), 1979.

When Rob Amato founded People’s Space, she played the “Older woman” in Zakes Mda’s The Hill (1980) ***, ***. For them also co-directed (with Rob Amato) Zakes Mda’s Dark Voices Ring (1979) (as part of the Serpent Players with Athol Fugard at the People’s Space),

Poppie Nongena (as “Popppie” with CAPAB, 1981).

For PACT at the Windybrow Theatre, doing Ulovane Jive (1985) and The Time of the Hyena (1985)**.

Together with Aletta Bezuidenhout, Clare Stopford, Nandi Nyembe and Jacqui Singer she workshopped and starred in Ulovane Jive which was the opening production of the Windybrow Theatre , 1986.

She starred in Tjaart Potgieter’s production of Mitzi Booysen’s The Time of the Hyena together with Pierre Knoesen and Elize Cawood at the Windybrow Theatre circa 1986.

Starred in Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King's Horseman in 1992.

Starred in Romeo and Juliet at the State Theatre and the Alexander in 1992.

Starred in Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena in 1993.

In 1996 she acted in Duma ka Ndlovu’s The Game.

In Boklied, 1998.

Cupid in Tyhume, Gr Fest 2006.

Film work included roles in Red Dust (2004), Zulu (2013),

Nkonyeni also starred in's Scandal and played the queen mother in Mzansi Magis's Igazi in 2017.

As writer and director she did a number of plays in 2017, including Truck Driver, Umqa ka Ntsika, You be a Leader My Son and My Boarding School, all at the Port Elizabeth Opera House.

TV productions include Tsha-Tsha, Gaz’lam,'s Scandal and in Mzansi Magis's Igazi in 2017.


She received an Artes in 1994 for her role in a radio production of Boesman and Lena.

Received a Naledi Theatre Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005.

She was awarded the Safta Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 and in 2017, the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her role in theatre. It was presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa.


SACD 1981/82.

Astbury 1979.

Tucker, 1997.

Kruger, Loren, 1999.

Interview by Ivor Markman published in The Herald, 12 June 2006.

My Boarding School publicity pamphlet, 2017.

Interview with Nomhle Nkonyeni, 2017. The Herald, May 12, 2017.

Daily Sun, 11 July 2019.

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities N

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page