By Ithuteng Mashabela
Eleven years ago she was just another nervous first year student, making her debut at Rhodes University. Within a few years she made her television debut on the SABC1 music show Castle Loud and her radio debut on Mzansi’s hottest youth radio station, Y-FM. She then went on to seal the deal as an up-and-coming media professional with her debut album ‘My First Time’. Her name is Unathi Nkayi, and this ex-Rhodent is yet another example of Rhodes University’s cream of the crop who grow to become the cherries on top.
Grahamstown can be intimidating, however, having been born here, the 29-year-old insists that she still considers Grahamstown her home. After attending Victoria Girl’s High School, the obvious step was in the direction of Rhodes University where she completed her BA, majoring in Journalism & Media Studies and Drama. Her excellence in academic and extra-curricular activities earned her a scholarship at the Universiteit van Utrecht in the Netherlands. Despite having been quite the diligent student, the budding socialite was no stranger to The Rat and Parrot. “I used to go out all the time and even got dumped by my boyfriend for being too outgoing!” She now admits that she was more of the social butterfly back then than she is currently.
Quite the all-rounder during her time at Rhodes, Unathi was also a keen sportswoman and a member of the hockey, basketball and soccer first teams. To this day, her favourite of the three is hockey. If she hadn’t been such a hit in the media industry, she reckons she’d have liked to have been a professional hockey player. And, of course, the best part of being a sports “chock” (or female jock) is Tri-Varsity. “Who could ever forget Tri-Var?” she asks, reliving the sports field moments in her mind. “It was incredible – the highlight of our year.”
Today, Unathi co-hosts the country’s most-listened to drive-time radio show, The Avenue, on Metro-FM, alongside radio veteran Glen Lewis. She has also just released her second album ‘In Honour’, which officially hit the airwaves on 12 September 2008, and hints at her hopes that RMR is playing her music in support of a fellow Rhodent. With this being her second album and her fourth year on the music scene, the DJ-come-musician has learnt a healthy portion of lessons from the media industry. “The industry is vast in variety and offers, but don’t try to please everyone because you never will,” she advises.
Unathi is one out of a handful of South African celebrities who have been able to deprive most of South Africa’s gossip-hungry tabloids of scandal, and she enjoys a fairly private life. Behind closed doors and away from the glares and stares of expectation, the young star’s escape from the pressure and madness is her three-year-old son, Sinako. She reflects fondly on her relationship with him, saying “We’ve created a beautiful sanctuary that we can retreat to. It’s great.” The young celebrity seems to have triumphed over the expectable challenges of being a successful working mother.One wonders how she gets it right, managing to be the phenomenal woman she has proven herself to be on so many levels. Perhaps the secret to her success is in the wise and worldly words she offers to all her homeboys and homegirls at Rhodes: “Be sincere in all that you do and the rest shall follow,” she says.