Princess Zinzi Mhlongo

With a name like Princess and a title like “Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Theatre 2012”, it’s hard to believe that this 26-year-old director, actress and businesswoman started her career on the amateur stages of Witbank, where she grew up. Maybe Mhlongo didn’t go to one of those fancy schools that offer drama as a school subject, but she did have Ishmael Mohammed and the local Witbank Youth Theatre to encourage her to pursue drama at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Mhlongo’s big break came in 2008 when she got the opportunity, at the age of 22, to direct Zakes Mda’s And the Girls in their Sunday Dresses at the State Theatre in Pretoria. The show went on to receive rave reviews at the Grahamstown Festival and Market Theatre, and will be making its international debut at the Edinburgh Festival later this year.

But Mhlongo was determined to explore every avenue of her creativity. In between directing, she hosted events under her company Tick Tock Productions and worked as an actress. In 2010, when South Africa was being hoisted on to the world stage with the World Cup, Mhlongo was enjoying her own hour in the international spotlight. She was invited to a festival in Germany where her talents were introduced to all the right people. She must have put on her best Sunday dress because, two years later, Mhlongo is preparing to present her writing debut, Trapped, as one of only four young international directors at the Salzburg Young Directors Project in Austria.

Where she still finds the time to get involved in community mentoring projects is best understood by the importance she places on sharing her skills and experiences with others. Perhaps coal isn’t Witbank’s best export anymore.

— Cat Pritchard