Former president Jacob Zuma has described award-winning playwright, Dr Mbongeni Ngema, as a freedom fighter who used his gift as an artist to highlight the plight of suffering black South Africans during the dark days of Apartheid.
Zuma was one of the prominent figures at Ngema’s memorial service held at the Durban Playhouse on Wednesday.
Ngema, who died December 27 while on his way to KZN from Lusikisiki, in the Eastern Cape, was hailed for his bold and politically charged artistic contribution in his illustrious career spanning over six decades.
On his arrival and before his address, Zuma was met with loud applause from those gathered there to celebrate the artistic icon.
This service was a precursor to the official funeral and memorial service of the 68-year-old legend who will be laid to rest on Friday January 5.
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Ngema would be given a Special Provincial Funeral at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) on Friday.
Zuma described Ngema as an icon and a “man among men”, adding that his death left a huge gap in the country’s cultural landscape.
“We have lost an icon, a legend. Mr Ngema was a hero and a man among men. This was a man with a great gift and wisdom. He is a man who showed love to all his people. He through his work, made people happy. Many artists have come through teachings and mentorship and went on to achieve greatness themselves,” Zuma said.
Zuma said on hearing of Ngema’s passing, he thought it was just a joke.
“We have lost a great man. The whole country and the rest of the world has lost a great person and cultural icon. He was a great storyteller who through his music told us beautiful stories. Some of us are lucky because we knew him for a long time because he was also a freedom fighter and used his platform as an actor, writer and musician to highlight the plight of the country which was suffering under the Apartheid regime,” Zuma said.
He added that Ngema had approached him as he wanted to bring his story to life through art.
“In recent times, Ngema had been pestering me wanting to do certain things to tell my story. At first I asked what has gotten into him. I told him I can’t sing and he said he does not want me to sing but he wants to tell the story of a man called Jacob Zuma, a man from Nkandla. He then got his relative from Nkandla to come speak to me. We eventually agreed on condition that he would not involve me directly in his project,” Zuma said.