Durban — Song and dance were the order of the day as the family, friends, colleagues and fans of Dr Mbongeni Ngema gathered to bid him farewell on Friday.
Mourners came out in their numbers to pay their last respects to one of South Africa’s most revered playwrights, directors, choreographers, lyricists, composers and theatre producers.
The mood at the Durban International Convention Centre had sombre moments befitting the farewell, but laughter and singing in celebration of his life were frequent.
Ngema – born in June 1955 in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal – became a household name with his many internationally acclaimed and successful productions, which told the story of the lives of South Africans under the oppressive laws of the apartheid government. These include Woza Albert, Asinamali and Sarafina!
He died in hospital last week on Wednesday after a head-on car crash while returning to Durban from a funeral in the Eastern Cape.
Ngema was honoured with a category 2 special provincial funeral granted by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The funeral included elements of police ceremonial honours and was reserved by designation of the president, on request of the Premier of the province, Nomusa Dube-Ncube.
Among the dignitaries who attended were eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, national Minister of Police Bheki Cele, KZN MEC for Health Nomagugu Simelane and former premier Jeff Hadebe, while television personalities such as Somizi Mhlongo were also present.
Guests were treated to song and dance by artists who worked with Ngema during his long career in arts and entertainment, and included Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Taking to the podium, Kaunda said they were deeply saddened by Ngema’s death.
“Ngema’s work reached a wider world audience and helped mobilise global solidarity in the fight against the brutal apartheid government,” he said.
“Therefore, as we mourn this colossal loss, we also remember the contribution that Mbongeni Ngema has made in the creative sector and his ability to inspire others.”
Kaunda said many artists who had become household names were trained by Ngema, adding that his passing was a loss not only to his family, but the country as a whole.
He noted Ngema’s immense contribution to the fight against oppression and his contribution to the creative industry, and said the most appropriate way of preserving his legacy would be to forge a strong partnership between government, the private sector and the creative industry.
Speaking on behalf of the creative industry, veteran music artist Chicco Twala, who worked with Ngema on two productions, described him as someone who was passionate about what was happening in the lives of people, particularly during the days of apartheid.
He said many protest songs by other artists, including Brenda Fassie, were largely inspired by Ngema.
Twala also made a passionate plea for the Durban Playhouse to be renamed in honour of Ngema. Speaking on behalf of his children, his son, Africa Ngema said his father would be sorely missed.
“We are grateful for all the memories you leave us with. I remember you in the most beautiful way and just as a garden of flowers that you have left,” he said.
Ngema was buried under the scorching sun at Redhill Cemetery.
Independent on Saturday