Writer, film and theatre director Mbongeni Ngema.
Antonio Muchave/Sowetan/Gallo Images
- Playwright Mbongeni Ngema’s funeral was held at the Durban International Convention Centre.
- In attendance were several artists he trained, the Sarafina! cast and those who revered him.
- Ngema was buried at Redhill Cemetery.
Legendary playwright and musician Mbongeni Ngema’s life was celebrated at his final send-off at the Durban International Convention Centre.
Ngema was accorded a special provincial official funeral (category 2).
He was hailed for his valuable contribution to the field of theatre and music by numerous speakers who took to the podium at his funeral on Friday.
Among the many things that were said, the one sentiment that was repeated was a call to name The Playhouse Theatre after Ngema
Different artists performed on the day, from his production Committed Artists to the Grammy Award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
In attendance were the likes of actor and ex-wife Leleti Khumalo, Chicco Twala, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Eugene Mthethwa and Ringo Mandlingozi.
Mourners were told by businessman and Ngema’s associate Sihle Bam that before the playwright died, he had great plans for 2024, including building and getting accreditation for an arts education institution that was set to open in April in Durban.
“Mbongeni Ngema has been training artists for over 40 years, so in 2021 Mr Ngema wrote a letter to the CathsSETA [Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority] requesting accreditation to open a Mbongeni Ngema Academy for Performance Excellence. What he wanted was to have an independent institution with its own qualifications and we started working on this in 2021.
”We were working together with some consultants, putting together the paperwork, and I’m very pleased to say on the 9th of June  the CathsSETA wrote a letter to him, granting him his accreditation. That was a turning point in his quest for his own college; it was like there was a fire that came in his bones. He started working tirelessly.”
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Bam shared with those in attendance that not only was Ngema working on the education academy, but he also had his sights set on another major project.
“He wanted to open a Mbongeni Ngema Museum of African Greatness and the whole idea of this museum was to tell the history of himself as an artist and creative. Those who knew him personally will know that Madlokovu was a very passionate historian; he knew his history, the Zulu, African and South African history, and he was extremely passionate about sharing that history.
“We worked on the documents and the proposals, and in 2024 we were going to have an exhibition of his museum. In it, he was going to celebrate other creatives who were his contemporaries, like Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Youssou N’Dour and Salif Keita.”
Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa said legends needed to be acknowledged while they are still alive.
“It was he who took South African theatre to the global stage to amplify the conditions of the black majority, the conditions of brutality and injustice.
“What needs to be done to celebrate his legacy? There is a need to establish a programme of recognition and acknowledgement as part of our vision. We need to give them flowers while they can still smell them. If we do so, we will have less posthumous recognition. We must name rivers, streets, build academies; we must name oceans, mountains and buildings after their names in recognition of their contribution while they can still see and walk past those monuments,” Kodwa said.
The minister said he last saw Ngema at The Playhouse Theatre when they were honouring legendary musician Madala Kunene.
READ MORE |‘Thank you for loving me’: Family, friends, associates commemorate life of Mbongeni Ngema
eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said Ngema used his talent to fight for the liberation of South Africa.
“As we celebrate 30 years of our freedom this year, we must work towards consolidating the democratic gains that Mbongeni Ngema and other freedom fighters gave their lives for.
“While Ngema was instrumental in documenting the life experiences of black people in townships during apartheid, we want to challenge the creative sector to continue telling the story because that’s the only way we can preserve our history and heritage,” Kaunda said.
Ngema’s wife Nompumelelo Gumede-Ngema penned a letter to the veteran thespian. The distraught widow went up the podium with her brother and mother. Her letter detailed how coming to terms with the playwright’s death had been a difficult task.
“I am at pains in accepting the finality this day presents. It is hard for me to accept the reality that I will not see you come through the door anymore.
“How do I begin to put together the pieces of my puzzle when the main part, you, are not around?
“The 17 years you dedicated to our union have given me more than just a husband. You truly did become my best friend, my mentor and a centre that held everything together for me. You were a legend to many but, to me, you will always remain my husband. Thank you for loving me.”