Actress Zazi Kunene talks about her breakthrough.


Actress Zazi Kunene talks about her breakthrough.

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Zazi Kunene does not regret delaying her last year of university studies to pursue her ambition of appearing in a Netflix dance performance. Her journey to her big break was not simple, which is what makes it all worthwhile.


Growing up in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, she faced bullying at school due to childhood-onset fluency disorder. So her mother enrolled her at the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy there.

“I used to stutter, which made me not speak much and I faced severe bullying to an extent that I would come back home from school and I wouldn’t be okay. I didn’t enjoy school and sometimes I would cry before going to school.”

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After enrolling at the drama school, she says her confidence improved. But what her mom didn’t realise was just how much little Zazi would fall in love with acting. In 2007, she performed her first role as King Duncan in Macbeth and never looked back.

Zazi’s newfound confidence led her to win multiple roles throughout her high school years, including one in the re-enactment of the Mbongeni Ngema production Sarafina! done by the University of Kwazulu-Natal in 2016.

By the time she made it to Johannesburg for her first year of studying drama at the University of Witwatersrand in 2018, Zazi nabbed a role in a Wits school of the Arts Open Forum production titled Ukuvuna at the Soweto Theatre and was also cast in a Joburg Theatre production called History, her first time on a stage of that magnitude. Zazi was also cast in Vuselela, a production that was showcased at the National Arts Festival in 2018.

She says that even though her mother comes from the generation of parents who would prefer their kids to pursue a “stable” profession, “she chose to stick with me on this one,” says Zazi. “My mom has really supported me, immediately from when she saw that I really loved this acting thing and I wanted to pursue it.”

Despite the infancy of her career, Zazi sure is flourishing. In 2019 she was cast in her first lead role in a short film titled Moya, which was awarded the “Best Student Film” award at the South African Film and Television Awards in 2020. This was followed by a role in made-for-TV film Emlanjeni and her superb acting in the horror Pinky Pinky — a role that set her apart from her peers as she received rave reviews for playing twin characters Nomzamo and Nomava.

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With the outbreak of the global pandemic, things seemed as if they were about to stall for the young actress as several productions came to a halt.

That was until she got the call to audition for the role of Nolwazi in Netflix’s latest African original production, Jiva! Kunene admits to wishing she was as confident and charismatic as her character when she was that age.

“I saw what I wanted to be when I was growing up. Although I think I am charismatic, I realise it’s only coming out now because I grew up with a stutter, which made me a very shy kid. So when I played her, I kind of got to feel how it would have been like to be like that while I was growing up,” she says.


Alaa Hamdy

Professional entertainment content writer in Hanover, South Africa. I know all the secrets of celebrities

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