South African music legend Mbongeni Ngema of Sarafina fame dies in car accident


Mbongeni Ngema, writer of the acclaimed musical Sarafina about student riots in apartheid Soweto, was killed in a car crash on Wednesday at the age of 68, his family announced. Ngema died just as the 1992 movie, developed with legendary jazz musician Hugh Masekela, was making a return with a screening at this year’s Cannes film festival classic section and a streaming release. Also read: Zahara, South Africa’s Afro-soul sensation and famous Country Girl, dies at 36

Mbongeni Ngema dies in a car crash.
Mbongeni Ngema dies in a car crash.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved brother, father, husband and a patriot, Mbongeni Ngema,” the family said in a statement. “Ngema was killed in a head-on car accident whilst returning from attending a funeral” in Eastern Cape province, the statement added. He was a passenger in the vehicle.

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“Sarafina” made Ngema a pan-African music star. A stage version had earlier played on New York’s Broadway for two years. It was nominated for Tony and Grammy awards. The film starred Leleti Khumalo, who had been in the stage version and later married Ngema, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Ngema also co-wrote the 1981 play Woza Albert with Percy Mtwa and Barney Simon. A satirical look at the plight of black people in white-dominated South Africa, the play toured Europe and North America. His works “reflected the spirit of resistance” during the “apartheid and liberation struggle”, the family said.

Ngema was also an actor, choreographer, composer and singer. His hit songs included “Stimela sa se Zola”, also made with Masekela. In 2020 one of Ngema’s ex-wives alleged in a book that he had sexually abused her.

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