Mbongeni Ngema (1955 -) Playwright, director, actor, composer and impressario.
He was previously married to actress Leleti Khumalo,
Mbongeni Ngema was born in Verulam, near Durban, before the government proclaimed it an Indian-only area under the Group Areas Act. He grew up in several townships and slums around Durban, amongst them Kwa=Mashu and Umlazi.
He left high school to work in Richards Bay where he worked for various companies until he decided he ws not cut out for manual labour. He became a guitarist, playing in many plays in Durban including Lucky Mavunda's Isigcino where, due to the abscence of the lead actor, he made his debut on stage.
Some time after his first appearance on stage, he worked at the Stable Theatre with Kessie Govender. Next he directed his own play, The Last Generation. He joined Gibson Kente in 1979 where he met Percy Mtwa.
In 1993 Ngema was appointed the Artistic Director of Musical Theatre at NAPAC and the same year he began his own recording venture, Mbongeni Ngema Productions, in association with Tusk Music.
Associate Director of musicals at Playhouse. 1997
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
He became an actor when, as a musician, he had to replace an ill actor in an amateur play.
Then began writing and producing plays in church halls, hospitals, and at private parties in the townships with untrained performers. Joined Gibson Kente’s company as actor. With co-actor Percy Mtwa he then broke away and they devised the play Woza Albert! (1981), showed it to the Market Theatre where Barney Simon joined them as director and the play went on to fame and fortune.
Ngema now founded Committed Artists, for which he went on to write Asinamali which he also directed (staged at the Laager in May 1985 before going on a world tour and returning to the Market Theatre in December that same year), Sarafina (1986), Sarafina II (198*), Township Fever (1990), Magic at 4 am (1990) and The Zulu (2000).
Standard Bank Young Artist Awards winner for Drama, 1988.
Virtually all Ngema’s work has been hugely successful, and his plays have raked in awards all over the world, including several Tony Awards. His musical work has been equally successful, earning him inter alia a Grammy Award for his song “Circle of Life” from the musical score for Disney’s The Lion King. Many plays and all his music are on CD, video and film, including a film version of Sarafina. Though much controversy has surrounded him over the years (perhaps most notably the Sarafina II scandal, but also his marriage to Leleti Khumalo in 1991 and his sequestration in 1999), Ngema is nationally and internationally lauded for his contribution to theatre. Besides many individual awards for specific plays, he was inducted as a member of the the “Walk of Fame”, the Playwright’s Sidewalk in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York in 1998.
National Arts Festival programme, 1988. 41.
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