Mbongeni Ngema

Born at Nhlwathi, KwaHlabisa in KwaZulu-Natal, 1955, Mbongeni Ngema attended  Nhlwathi Primary School before moving to Verulam and later Kwa-Mashu E Section. He attended Vukuzakhe High School. From the age of 12, Ngema taught himself to play the guitar. His pursuit of theatre began when he worked in a fertilizer factory where he was enlisted to play guitar accompaniment. He later joined the acting company of the country’s then major black theatre company and began to discover the classics.

Plays and Early Success

Ngema co-wrote his early plays ‘Woza Albert!’ and ‘Asinamali’, following which he founded his company, touring the United States and the rest of the world. He won a number of awards, most notably with ‘Sarafina’ which won 11 NAACP Image Awards, and was then made into a feature film.

As a composer, Ngema’s biggest album in South Africa was ‘Stimela Sase-Zola’. In 1990, Ngema’s major musical, ‘Township Fever’, about one of the largest and most effective workers’ strikes in African history, travelled from the Market Theatre to America. In the same year Ngema directed his first American work, ‘Sheila’s Day’.

Over the years Ngema has produced a number of stage plays including; Magic at 4 AM (1993), Circle Of Life (African voices) (1995), Mama (1996), Sarafina! 2 (1997), Nikeziwe (2005), The House of Shaka (2006), Lion of the East (2009) and The Zulu (2013). The Zulu saw Mbongeni Ngema’s return to stage as he was the lead performer on the production which opened in October 2013 to a sold out audience:

This story is one I was told repeatedly by my great-grandmother so I have known it before I knew anything else. I wrote a musical also named The Zulu but it wasn’t as detailed as this play. Over the years I have continued to research it and perfect it and this is the result. I was feeling nostalgic about the stage – I wanted to come back with a good play. I have always loved being on stage and had been thinking about it for years. I wasn’t going to settle for an inferior production after doing such great work.

Mbongeni Ngema
Mbongeni Ngema

Awards and Recognition

In 1994, Ngema released a song titled ‘African Solution’ which he wrote for the National Peace Committee and it won gold and platinum awards. He was also one of the vocal arrangers for the Lion King, Disney’s animated film for which he received a multi-platinum award. Ngema’s list of awards includes:

  • Edinburgh Fringe First Award
  • AA Vita Award, Best Production – Sarafina (Philadelphia Award)
  • Best contribution to SA Music – OKTV
  • City Limits Awards for Best Play – London
  • J&B Rare Achievers Award

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