South African Musician & Playwright Mbongeni Ngema Dies in Car Crash—Creator of Sarafina!

Mbongeni Ngema dies in car crash, author of the play Sarafina!
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Mbongeni Ngema dies in car crash, author of the play Sarafina!
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Photo Credit: Mbongeni Ngema/Facebook

South African composer, producer, and playwright Mbongeni Ngema has died in a car crash. The creator of Broadway play ‘Sarafina!’ was 68.

Mbongeni Ngema’s family confirmed he was involved in a head-on collision while returning from a funeral in Eastern Cape province. Ngema was not driving the vehicle. He is best known for writing ‘Sarafina!’ which premiered on Broadway in 1988. The musical was adapted into a drama starring Whoopi Goldberg in 1992, earning Tony and Grammy nominations.

‘Sarafina!’ explores a young student’s fight against racial segregation after her teacher is jailed under the South African Apartheid regime. Ngema directed and wrote the book for the musical, co-writing the music and lyrics with Hugh Masekela. The musical received five Tony Awards nominations for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Featured Actress in a Musical, and Best Direction of a Musical.

Other productions from Mbongeni Ngema include ‘Township Fever,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘Asinamali,’ ‘Maria Maria,’ ‘The Zulu – The Musical,’ ‘1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter,’ ‘The House of Shaka,’ and ‘The Lion of the East.’ In the late ‘90s, Ngema was one of the vocal arrangers for the Disney animated film, The Lion King. Despite his many successes, the South African composer was not without controversy.

He was implicated in a fraudulent contract award worth more than R14 million in 1995 by his friend, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Zuma was serving as the health minister of South Africa at the time. Ngema was supposed to produce a sequel to Sarafina! which never materialized.

In July 2019, he was removed from his position as co-director for a production of Sarafina! following allegations of sexual harassment by a cast member. His ex-wife Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema published a memoir detailing several allegations of abuse during and rape during their marriage.

The Gauteng Social Development Department has posthumously granted Ngema is 365 Men’s Award. It acknowledges the transformation from an abuser of women to speaking out against gender-based violence.