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Mncedisi Shabangu was passionate about storytelling, says Joburg Theatre’s James Ngcobo

Mncedisi Shabangu. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana

Mncedisi Shabangu. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana

Published Jul 25, 2022

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Tributes are pouring in for theatre and TV legend Mncedisi Shabangu, who died on Sunday at the age of 54 .

His family confirmed his sudden death in a statement, that read: “It is with great sadness that the Shabangu Family informs you of the sudden passing of Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu. He passed in the early hours of this morning July 24.”

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The cause of death is yet to be announced.

The family thanked everyone who shared messages of support but requested space and privacy.

Artistic director of the Joburg Theatre, James Ngcobo said he will remember Shabangu for his great passion for storytelling.

“Mncedisi was one of the greatest storytellers this country has ever produced, and I’m not just saying this because Mncedisi has passed away, it is the truth. Anyone who has acted or been around Mncedisi would tell you, he was an orator of note,” he said.

Ngcobo, who directed his last performance in Athol Fugard's aclaimed play, “Blood Knot”, which was staged at the Baxter in May, said Shabangu’s death will leave a huge gap in the arts sector.

“Blood Knot” was a reunion between Ngcobo and Shabangu. In 2006, the duo collaborated on “The Suitcase”, which won Shabangu a Naledi Award for Best Supporting Actor.

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“The first time that I got to work with Mncedisi was on Lara Foot’s adaptation of Zakes Mda's ‘Ways of Dying’. I saw him in many plays and I always thought he was such a marvellous actor and it was so beautiful when we were both cast in the piece.

“And it didn’t matter which director he worked with, Mncedisi’s spirit was always in his work. He was able to charm his way into any text that was given to him. And I’m honoured to have been able to direct him in his last play.”

Mncedisi Shabangu in ‘Blood Knots’. Picture: Lungelo Mbulwana

Shabangu started his acting career in the early 90s as a member of various theatre groups in his village of Kanyamazane township in Nelspruit.

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In 1993, he made his debut at the Market theatre in “The Secret Agenda”, directed by his late mentor Gordon Motha.

It was only in 1995 that he enrolled at the Market Theatre Laboratory as a student.

In 1996, Shabangu appeared in the acclaimed “Bunju” which was co-devised with his fellow students.

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The play was seen by Swedish producer Christa Dahl who argued that it was borrowing from Theatre De Complicite.

In a previous interview Shabangu said: “Instead of demoralising us, we went on to co-create the smash hit play ‘Gomorrah’ which opened at the Market theatre in 1997 before touring major cities of Sweden.”

Since then he appeared more regularly at the Market Theatre. He served as its associate artistic director as well as artistic director at the Windybrow Arts Centre.

Shabangu went back to his village and began working with young people. It was his work in the village that caught the eye of producers and directors who wanted to collaborate with him.

“I loved his passion for mentoring directors and playwrights. I went back home to Nelspruit and started programs that never existed there,” said Ngcobo.

“He was always about what else can we do. Mncedisi was not great at receiving, he was great at giving.”

Shabangu was a recipient of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artists Award for Theatre in 2004.

In his long career he worked withtop directors like Lara Foot, James Ngcobo, Paul Grootboom, Malcolm Purkey, Aubrey Sekhabi, Craig Higginson, John Matshikiza, William Kentridge and two young directors who were his students, Motshabi Monageng and Price Lamla.

Shabangu also appeared in classical shows including “Nongogo”, “Woza Albert”, “Asinamali”, “ Tshepang” and “Woyzeck” among others.

He also appeared in “Catch A Fire”, alongside Bonnie Mbuli, Derek Luke and Tim Robbins, and “Book of Negros”.

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