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Mbongeni Ngema lauded for his contribution in fighting apartheid

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Former colleagues, friends and fans of the late playwright and musical icon Mbongeni Ngema descended on Durban to attend his memorial service at the Playhouse Theatre. Various speakers described him as a generous man who paved the way for many in the arts industry.

Ngema died in a crash in the Eastern Cape last week. Ex-president Jacob Zuma was among those who paid tribute to Ngema.

Ngema’s memorial service was a celebration of his life, showcasing his wide repertoire in the arts industry. The original cast of Sarafina the film, was on the stage, performing a collection of Ngema’s most notable music productions.

Artists with different music genres kept the crowd entertained. Legendary musician and heritage enthusiast Mbuso Khoza sang Ngema’s praises as the man who assisted him in recording his first album.

“Dr. Mbongeni Ngema is the reason today I recorded my first album Izilindile because he spoke to Dr. Themba Mkhize. (He) said ‘instead of recording me as an old man, take this young boy’. But I was not this grey back then, so that you are not confused. That is how I got to record my first album. So, he is a father, he is an icon.”

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Fighting apartheid 

Ngema was also lauded for fighting oppression in South Africa. Dr. Yaakov Ashantewaa-Ngidi of the Institute of Africology said through his creativity he has put the country on the global stage.

“I come here as the Baobab of indigenous information, what we call the Apartheid Regime. I was with him a couple of days ago after he got an award. I am grateful that today we are getting a chance to honour him. He has been honoured in Atlanta, in Jamaica, Barbados. So, he wasn’t just a man from KZN but a man from the Africa Diaspora and for that we want to say thank you, South Africa.”

Ngema’s long-time friend Vusi Mvelase says he was a transformational artist who weaved change during apartheid. He says Ngema was a braveheart, standing tall in the face of oppression, forever challenging the status quo and a gift to future  generations.

“Many people do not know Mbongeni as a politician because he is just regarded as an artist, but Ngema was working with mama Winnie Mandela to take young men and women to Lusaka. Many people could come as committed artists to be trained as though they were going to be part of Sarafina and in no time those people would disappear and no one would know their whereabouts. Those people would have been assisted by Ngema to cross the border to be trained to be part of the ANC military wing Umkhonto Wesizwe.”

Mbongeni Ngema Memorial | Siboniso Duma:

Ngema’s legacy 

Former President Jacob Zuma, who was also in attendance, urged the arts and culture fraternity to keep Ngema’s legacy alive, saying part of Ngema’s projects was to write about his life.

“For the longest time, he has been requesting to do a project about my life. At first, I questioned his request. I told him I am not an artist. He responded by saying that all he wanted was to tell a story about me, the man from Nkandla uGedleyihlekisa Mhlanganyelwa Zuma. I hope artists will continue to hold Mbongeni Ngema’s name in high honour.”

In a moving tribute to his older brother, Nhlanhla Ngema thanked Mbongeni for the role he played in the family and arts industry.

The tribute was read on his behalf.

“As we pay tribute to Mbongeni Ngema today, let us celebrate the beautiful moments we shared with him, the everlasting impact he had on our lives. May his spirit guide us and memory bring comfort in these days ahead. Rest in peace dear brother, you will always be remembered and cherished in our hearts with love and fond memories.”

Ngema was granted a special provincial funeral, which will be held at the International Convention Centre in Durban on Friday.
The category 2 funeral will include police ceremonial honours.

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