The world is her stage

After returning from her nine-month course at New York Film Academy next year, Naledi Kunene plans to establish an acting academy for less privileged, yet passionate, individuals.

20 August 2019 | People

Ester Kamati



Dancer, MC, entrepreneur, personal assistant and actress.

These are the hats that Naledi Kunene, popularly known as Nay-Nay, wears when she is not occupied with her full-time studies at the University of Namibia (Unam).

The third-year media and drama student describes herself as independent and loud. She is also a talented and passionate dancer. “Dancing interprets what I can’t say with my mouth,” she said.

Her advice to fellow youth is: “Get out of your comfort zone.”

Kunene, who was born in South Africa, developed a love for the performing arts while in the seventh grade, after she was named as the overall winner of an inter-school arts and culture competition in Mpumalanga, South Africa, where she performed a monologue. She, however, started acting in the third grade.

On 7 July she travelled overseas for a two-week competition hosted in Los Angeles and competed in the acting category.

Out of the 66 participating countries at the world championships for performing arts, Kunene was one of the eight actors who made it into the semi-finals.

Kunene was discovered by the director of the Namibian Championships of Performing Arts, Lomine Brynard, at a fundraising event where she was emceeing.

Brynard approached her after noticing her great talent and stage presence, and invited her to the audition for the Namibian championships, which was held at the National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) last year.

However, Kunene realised the application fee of N$900 was a bit too steep for her and considered auditioning only in 2019.

Brynard offered to pay the fee for the actress, due to her potential, on the condition that she makes her proud.

The rest is history, as Kunene returned home with medals and a scholarship.

During her journey, she has encountered mainly financial problems, as in Namibia and South Africa, nobody wanted to sponsor her trip to the United States, which amounted to about N$87 000.

This was because she is South African, but was representing Namibia, which caused a bit of a stir. After a fruitless search for sponsors, Kunene then decided to raise her own funds for the trip.

Her strong support system, comprising of friends and family, chipped in and also assisted her with her fundraising activities. Kunene received the rest of the funds from her parents. She had to spend this on transport, accommodation and a team tracksuit, as well as pocket money.

“The fact that my friends believed in me is what inspired me. My mom told me that even if it means selling the cars at home, I have to go because she also saw the potential that everyone else saw,” she said.

Because of the sponsorship rejections and the financial burden, she almost gave up, but kept going due to the support of her inner circle.

“Receiving support from somebody who doesn’t expect you to pay them back really keeps you going. That is what helped me give my best in Los Angeles, because I felt like I owed it to the people who helped me get there.”

Her audition at NTN was mediated by four judges, whereas in Los Angeles, 21 professionals judged the competition, which she admitted was a bit scary, in addition to the 17 cameras.

“For me, I’ve already won, by just making it to an international stage,” she said.

After being recognised at the international competition, Kunene’s first thought was: “Am I really that talented?”

That was the moment that she realised the talent that other people saw in her.

“My friends always told me that I can pull off anything and at that point when I won (the scholarship), that’s when I comprehended that they were not lying.”

During her trip, Kunene had the experience of a lifetime and got to visit Hollywood and Disneyland, and even had her name written on a star.

“I went to a selfie museum because I am obsessed with pictures,” she added.

Universal Studios was also one of the places she visited, which she described as the craziest experience, as she met Eddie Murphy and Steve Harvey, among other big Hollywood names.

She is currently on a mission to raise funds for her tuition next year, because her scholarship only covers 25% of the fees.

After returning from her nine-month course at New York Film Academy next year, she plans on establishing an acting academy for less privileged, yet passionate, individuals. “I see people who have a drive for performing, but there are no funds, and thus no school to take them in,” she said.

“I really want to do this to give back to a place I call home, even though I am not originally from Namibia.”

Naledi fun facts:

She is not an open book, as people may think.

She has the loudest laugh.

She’s extremely adventurous.

She is part of a royal family.

She is tremendously fashion conscious.

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