Veteran playwright and showbiz icon Mbongeni Ngema dies in car crash

SA mourns passing of 'Sarafina!' composer

27 December 2023 - 22:38
By Joy Mphande
Mbongeni Ngema has died.
Image: Thuli Dlamini Mbongeni Ngema has died.

Musician, composer, choreographer and playwright Mbongeni Ngema has died. 

A statement shared by his family confirmed Ngema died on Wednesday evening in a head-on collision while returning from attending a funeral in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape.

Ngema was 68. 

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved brother, father, husband and patriot, Mbongeni Ngema. He was a passenger in the vehicle,” read the statement from the family.

Born in 1955 in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, Ngema started his career as a theatre backing guitarist. He wrote the musical Sarafina! and co-wrote Woza Albert!, both of which won numerous awards. 

Ngema also became a household name for writing hit songs, including Stimela sa se Zola.

The 1992 hit movie Sarafina! was a musical drama based on Ngema's 1987 musical of the same name. The film was co-written by Ngema and starred Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo. 

The Ngema family said they were devastated by his passing and would share details of his funeral soon. 

In 2018, Ngema expressed joy at knowing that his work would outlive him. His legacy includes discovering and mentoring many South African actors who have become household names in the industry.

He previously told TshisaLIVE the next generation of actors needs to be more willing to learn from veterans.

“What frustrates me the most is that young artists don't want to learn from us who have been in this industry for a while. I remember when I started out I learnt so much from Gibson Kente,” Ngema said at the time. 

“I decided to go live at his house to learn how he wrote music and everything about him. I don't see enough young people wanting to learn. I feel like the thirst to learn is lacking in today's generation.”