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Celebrating Excellence–  Zaza Cala’s star shines bright with Naledi Theatre Award win

Updated: Jun 12

by Gerrit Bester


Zaza Cala, a student in the Performing Arts programme at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), won a Naledi Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play (Imxinwa) on 20 May. This prestigious recognition not only highlights her commitment and skill, but also serves as motivation for budding artists, particularly her peers in the Faculty of Arts and Design. In a post-award interview, Cala expressed her gratitude and dedication to honouring those who paved the way, those who are currently creating, and those who will follow in her footsteps.


YOU MUST BE OVER THE MOON AFTER WINNING A PRESTIGIOUS NALEDI THEATRE AWARD FOR BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY . . . I’m truly touched by this award, incredibly grateful and honoured to have received it. This recognition means the world to me. The award is humbling and I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the support and belief in my abilities.


TELL US MORE ABOUT THE PLAY, IMXINWA. Imxinwa is a play about a young man with an insistent call from his ancestors, but to answer that call he must draw truth and hope from a mother in despair.

It’s a spiritual odyssey told through music, movement and text – a soulful reminder to South Africans never to forget who they are.


IT HAS ALSO RECEIVED OTHER ACCOLADES. Yes, from the State Theatre as part of its incubation programme (won Best Costume Design, Best Sound Design, Best Set Design and Most Supported Play). 


Also from the Tx Theatre 1st Independent Theatre Awards, where it was nominated nine times (winning Best Supporting Actress in a Play, Best Ensemble and Best Musical).


WHAT DOES THE NALEDI RECOGNITION MEAN FOR YOU AND YOUR CAREER? For me, every nominee is already a winner. Winning a Naledi cements credibility and the prestige that comes with it opens a door to opportunities. It also means that I can be trusted with the ability to adapt to the character.

DID YOU ATTEND THE AWARDS CEREMONY AND, IF SO, WHAT WAS IT LIKE? Yes, I did. It was just so intense, I don't know, maybe it's because I was nominated but I had a great time.


YOU HAVE HAD AN INTERESTING JOURNEY AS A STUDENT. YOU ACTED BEFORE JOINING TUT, THEN QUALIFIED IN THE DANCE STREAM AND COMPLETED A POSTGRADUATE CERTIFICATE IN EDUCATION BEFORE RETURNING TO THE DEPARTMENT OF PERFORMING ARTS THIS YEAR FOR A POSTGRADUATE DIPLOMA. TELL US MORE. I’m a dancer, choreographer, actor and teacher originally from the North West (Mahikeng), a region known for producing energetic, passionate performers. I have a Certificate in Speech and Drama (Trinity College-London) through the Mmabana Arts, Culture and Sports Foundation, Mahikeng; a TUT National Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance) and a TUT Postgraduate Certificate in Education. I'm currently enrolled for a Postgraduate Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance).


WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF STUDYING AT TUT, PARTICULARLY IN THE FACULTY OF ARTS AND DESIGN, AND HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE A PROSPECTIVE STUDENT TO MAKE TUT THEIR ACADEMIC HOME? It has been truly life-changing, helping me to make sense of my own life and to identify with the lives of others. The University is also increasingly recognised as a driver of the innovative thinking needed to solve our world's most pressing problems. Learning and practising the arts and tapping into your creativity can make you better at whatever you do.


WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AND AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE? I aspire to be a great and truthful performer. I have always had a knack for performing from an early age. I want to use my craft to make people feel less alone.


I want to become a channel for change through my craft.


Honestly, I don’t want the fame, but rather the recognition of being a true performer.


Most importantly, I want to be great because I want to remove the stigma surrounding this career path. I want to set an example that you don't have to be a doctor or an engineer to do well in life, especially in South Africa.


I believe in the power of theatre and how it gets the message across. My career is the language of my soul and it makes me feel alive when I indulge in it.


WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS IN THE PERFORMING ARTS INDUSTRY, AND WHY? We all need someone to inspire us to do better than we think we can. Throughout my career, I've been lucky to have great friends and teachers who were willing to take a chance on me and provide me with meaningful opportunities and knowledge to grow. Not only have they taught me what is important, both personally and professionally. They also gave me opportunities. The value of building relationships is something I’m reminded of every day. I know I wouldn't be in the position I'm in today if I hadn't been able to get guidance.


I had a great mentor in my sister who supported and guided me through every step of my life and made me who I am today. She has made countless sacrifices for me. She inspired me to study and succeed. It’s because of her inspiration that I’m standing here today.


Professionally, I have been fortunate to meet very bright and talented people who are successful at what they do.


ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD? Zaza Cala is dedicated to creating performances that are firmly rooted in narrative and history, that don’t ignore social justice, radical healing and ancestral guidance. I present my work to honour those who have paved the way, those who are currently creating, and those who will follow in my footsteps.


·        The Naledi Theatre Awards were established in 2004 and are recognised as the premier awards event on the Gauteng theatre calendar. Read more about the awards and the 2024 winners at

Zaza Cala, a Postgraduate Diploma student at the Department of Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts and Design, won a prestigious Naledi Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play. Here she is at the awards ceremony on 20 May at the Joburg Theatre.


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