Mzansi’s Pearl

Actress Pearl Thusi models for the cover of S Mag
Actress Pearl Thusi models for the cover of S Mag

If you’ve never personally met Pearl Thusi, or followed her social-media accounts, you might be surprised by the size of the personality behind the perfectly groomed looks of the former model.

The 29-year-old TV presenter and actress, asked to describe herself in a few words, picks: “strong”, “vibrant”, and “loyal”. “I’m not very good at (describing myself). If somebody put a gun to my head and asked me that question, I would say: eclectic — I’m smart, but I’m crazy.” 

Thusi is sitting barefaced at Tashas in Morningside, her manager in tow. She describes Thusi as “fearless’. “I don’t know about fearless,” Thusi demures. “I feel like I’m courageous, because I am scared a lot of the time. I am doubtful, but I do my best anyway.”

Before the glitz and glam that have made her a regular feature on the red carpert, Thusi grew up in the townships of Hammarsdale and KwaNdengezi.  Thusi, the eldest in a family of three girls, also has three older half-brothers and one older half-sister. She is close to her siblings, although they are not a “speak every day family”.  Her mother’s passing when she was 16 years old meant Thusi took on a responsible role in her family from a young age, something she says has seen her be “old for very long”.

In 2007, she herself became a mother, a role she takes prides in, and mentions often. “One of my biggest fears is my daughter wishing somebody else was her mom,” she says. Thusi aims to instil confidence and strength in her daughter, Thando. “My daughter is very brave and she believes that she can do things that even I as a mother am like…” she says, sighing.

“I want more kids: a big family,” Thusi says, although she is resolute that she will walk away from any relationship she feels is not setting the best example for her daughter. “No man will ever beat her, no man will ever emotionally or financially abuse her. It will not happen.” Thusi says. “If that means I have to walk away from a relationship every single time — because I’m trying to make sure she does not learn from that behaviour the way most of us do as young women — I’ll walk away.”

Despite what may appear to be a callous approach to life with her famed twars and clapbacks on social media, the longer one speaks to Thusi, the more you sense there is a considered young woman behind the bravado. “I think fear drives me,” she says. “I’m scared of failing like everybody else. Now and again I ask: am I deserving? Am I worth it?”  This seems a strange sentiment for a woman who even has an eponymous song, which she has only recently started being comfortable dancing to. 

A few weeks ago Thusi ended a much publicised, yet largely unspoken of, relationship and engagement with sportscaster Robert Marawa, following weeks of speculation. Thusi won’t be drawn on the matter, or rather, it is her manager who will not let her comment. “We’re not going there. We’ve discussed this. No,” she says, before Thusi can reply.

But Thusi is determined to have a word.  “Babe, a ‘no comment’ is a comment,” she argues, before composing herself to deliver her thoughts. “Yes, it’s a private issue, but it was an incredible relationship. It was an absolutely incredible relationship. I wouldn’t trade it. I learned a lot from it,” she says. “I think we’ve all taken the lessons we needed to take from that journey… hopefully… and we can move forward from that.” End statement.

 A few moments later, Thusi adds: “Sometimes things don’t work and they are allowed to.  And I think unless people are there to answer for themselves, that’s probably the most I can say.” Thusi has been largely mum on the subject. When Marawa uncharacteristically tweeted a statement confirming their split, Thusi made no attempts to reply because she “didn’t feel the need to say anything”. Does she still believe in love? “I don’t think I’m ready for another relationship for a while. I just want to relax and have fun and enjoy people’s company…just be young,” she says.

Marriage is an institution Thusi still believes in. “I believed in it from the very beginning and it was always my plan,” she says. “However, if the curse must die — of abuse of women — for me the legacy I want to leave for my daughter is that I’m willing to die a spinster for my daughter to die a strong woman who does not depend  on a man.” 

Thusi also warns that love is not enough. “If we are not acting on it, if there are other issues in the way….Yes, it’s a verb, but it does not mean that you must always show that you are that linked to the relationship to survive,” she says. “If it’s an uphill battle it means it’s not organic anymore.”

“Organic” is a word Thusi uses regularly, “because, for me, everything has to be organic”. This includes her image. “I’m not thinking about it.  That’s the difference with me.  I’m not premeditating things. Like if you look at a lot of my tweets — or things I’ve tweeted in the past or things I am still going to tweet in the future — my kindness is not premeditated, my craziness is not pre-meditated, my love or my anger or my… even the brands I align with.  Everything has to just flow.” 

2016 was one such year, when everything just seemed to flow for her. Thusi undoubtedly had one of the biggest years by a local celebrity, culminating in a role on the ABC drama Quantico, in which she played the role of Dayana Mampasi. She speaks highly of her co-stars, who included Blair Underwood and Priyanka Chopra. But Thusi says despite learning “a lot” from the experience, living overseas was not always easy. “Little” things like opening a bank account could prove frustrating. 

For all her happy-go-lucky attitude, Thusi admits that the “small things” can sometimes set her off.  “I’ve had to deal with big problems my whole life. I’ve learnt how to deal with that, so I hate it when people bring things that can be avoided into my space, because I’d rather exert that energy on things that I know I have to deal with, whether I like it or not,” she says.  “I don’t know, maybe I need to go to counselling or something for it and figure out why.”

Earlier in September Thusi hosted Antonio Banderas on his visit to South Africa when he came to launch his new fragrance and do some charity work.  Philanthropy is also important to Thusi, who has started her own non-governmental organisation, Black Halo. She has also resumed her role as host of popular show Lip Sync Battle; her haircare range, Black Pearl Collection, continues to grow; and in October she will be the first-ever face of the Cape Town International Film and Market Festival. 

Thusi has also unfollowed most of the local starlets on social media, so she can focus on her own journey, without looking at what others are doing. “Women need to stop judging each other. If somebody is doing a hoe is life, that ain’t none of your damn business,” she says. “Stop judging… Let everyone live their own lives, as long as they are not hurting you or somebody close to you.”

Having achieved so much and had a massive year, does Thusi feel she stillhas a point to prove? She shrugs. “What else is there to prove? I’m focusing on myself and maintaining what I started.”