Mbongeni Ngema Biography: Age, Wiki, Date Of Birth, Death, Career, Net Worth, Songs, Family, Wife, Children And More

Mbongeni Ngema Biography

Mbongeni Ngema was a South African playwright, composer, lyricist, director, theatre producer, and choreographer who died in a car accident on 27 December 2023.

He was best known for co-writing the 1981 play Woza Albert! and the 1988 musical Sarafina!, which depicted the lives and struggles of black South Africans under apartheid. He was also a controversial figure, who faced criticism for some of his later works and personal life.

Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about Mbongeni Ngema, his full biography, early life, education, career, family and more.

Mbongeni Ngema Early Life And Education

Mbongeni Ngema was born on 10 May 1955 in Verulam, Natal (near Durban). He is the third of seven children of Gladys Hadebe and Zwelikhethabantu Ngema.

He grew up in several townships and slums around Durban, such as Kwa=Mashu and Umlazi. He left high school to work in Richards Bay, where he worked for various companies until he decided he was 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 absence of the lead actor, he made his debut on stage.

He moved to Johannesburg, where he joined Gibson Kente’s theatre company as a singer and trainee actor. He was exposed to the work of Stanislavsky, Peter Brook, and Jerzy Grotowski.

Mbongeni Ngema Career

Mbongeni Ngema Biography

Mbongeni Ngema started his career as a theatre backing guitarist and actor in local productions in the 1970s.

He co-wrote the comedy/drama Woza Albert! with fellow actor Percy Mtwa in 1981, which toured the U.S. and won much praise for its portrayal of the spirit of black South Africans under apartheid.


He also co-wrote (with Hugh Masakela) the multi-award-winning musical Sarafina! in 1988, which was nominated for five Tony Awards, and later nominated for the prestigious Grammy Awards. The musical enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway, toured the world, and was later adapted into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Leleti Khumalo and Miriam Makeba.

He founded his own theatre company, Committed Artists, and trained young men who had no experience in acting.

He also wrote and directed several other plays and musicals, such as Asinamali, Mama, Maria Maria, The Zulu, 1906 Bhambada The Freedom Fighter, The House of Shaka, and The Lion of the East.

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Mbongeni Ngema Awards and Nominations

Mbongeni Ngema was a celebrated and award-winning artist, who received many honours for his work. Here are some of the awards he won or was nominated for:

  • Obie Award for Special Citations for Woza Albert! in 1984
  • Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy for Woza Albert! in 1983
  • Tony Award nominations for Best Direction of a Play for Asinamali in 1987, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Original Score for Sarafina! in 1988
  • Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Orchestrations for Sarafina! in 1988, and Outstanding Orchestrations for Township Fever in 1991
  • Grammy Award nominations for Best Musical Show Album for Sarafina! in 1989, and Best Musical Album for Children for The Lion King in 1998
  • Helen Hayes Awards nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production for Woza Albert! in 1985, and Outstanding Director, Non-Resident Production for Sarafina! and Sheila’s Day in 1991
  • New York Walk of Fame in 1998
  • Presidential Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2008
  • Lifetime Achievement Award at the Naledi Theatre Awards in 2011.

Mbongeni Ngema Net Worth

Mbongeni Ngema had an estimated net worth of about $2 million at the time of his death in 2023. He earned his wealth from his successful career as a writer, lyricist, choreographer, director and theatre producer.

Mbongeni Ngema Personal Life, Wife And Children

Mbongeni Ngema Biography

Mbongeni Ngema was married twice, first to Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema from 1983 to 1992, and then to Leleti Khumalo from 1992 to 2005. Both marriages ended in divorce, and he was accused of domestic abuse by both his ex-wives.

He had four children from previous relationships, but their names and ages are not publicly known. He was not married to anyone at the time of his death.

Date and Cause Of Mbongeni Ngema’s Death

Mbongeni Ngema died on Wednesday, December 27, 2023, in a head-on collision car accident. He was returning home from attending a funeral in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape, when his car collided with another vehicle. He died at the scene, while the driver of his car and the occupants of the other car survived with injuries.


He was 68 years old and a celebrated and award-winning artist, who created many plays and musicals that reflected the spirit of black South Africans under apartheid.

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