Mbongeni Ngema, South African Musician and ‘Sarafina!’ Creator, Dies at 68
Written by oasis96.3 on December 28, 2023
“Ngema was killed in a head-on car accident while returning from a funeral he was attending in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape this evening,” his family said in a statement to the Associated Press. It is understood that he was a passenger in the car.
A playwright, producer and composer, he is best known for creating the 1987 stage musical “Sarafina!,” which tells the tale of a student woman who sees her teacher sent to jail and inspires other to fight against the racial segregation system known as apartheid. In 1981, he also created “Woza Albert,” a satirical stage drama in which Jesus Christ returns to Earth as a black South African.
“Sarafina!,” with lyrics co-written by Hugh Masekela, first opened at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg with Leleti Khumalo in the title role. With Khumalo reprising the role, it transferred to Broadway in 1988 and played at the Cort Theater for nearly 600 performances until it closed in July 1989.
“Sarafina!” was produced as a musical film that debuted in 1992 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was directed by Darrell Roodt and produced by Anant Singh. The film starred Khumalo, Miriam Makeba, John Kani and Whoopi Goldberg.
Apartheid was still operational at the time the film rights were acquired and Hollywood studios reportedly chose not to finance the film production. Singh assembled finance instead from the BBC in the U.K. and French producer Revcom. By the time filming started, Nelson Mandela had been released from jail and apartheid had official been abolished.