Ngema’s ‘customary wife’ threatens to interdict his funeral

The woman who claims to be a customary wife of late award-winning playwright Mbongeni Ngema has threatened to interdict the government from organising his burial.

Yolanda “Wanda” Moncho says she will make good of her threat should she be excluded from Ngema’s funeral preparations. She demands the government to recognise her as Ngema’s wife in its funeral programme.

Moncho, who says she is also pregnant with Ngema’s child, also demands the government to stop speaking to Ngema’s younger brother Nhlanhla Ngema regarding the preparations of the funeral.

In a lawyers’ letter dated January 2 2024, which Sunday World has seen, and directed to the office of the KZN premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, Moncho states that she wants to be the one spoken to regarding the funeral. 

The letter was also addressed to the offices of the KZN provincial government director-general, KZN MEC for sports, arts and culture, KZN police commissioner Lt-Gen Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, office of the president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, minister of sports, arts and culture Zizi Kodwa and Ngema’s younger brother Nhlanhla Ngema.

This week Dube-Ncube said Ngema would receive a special provincial official funeral category 2.

Ngema was suing his younger brother

In the letter, Moncho’s lawyers said: “We, the lawyers acting on behalf of Miss Yolanda Moncho, hereby write to you in your capacity as Premier of KwaZulu-Natal. We wish to draw to your attention that: Mr Nhlanhla Ngema was not in good terms with the late Dr Mbongeni Ngema, being not in talking terms for the past 5 years.

“Evidence, at his death Dr Mbongeni Ngema was suing Mr Nhlanhla Ngema over many issues. Ms Yolanda Moncho is the rightful spouse to Dr Mbongeni Ngema … but government has decided to ignore her which is not in line with our country’s laws on customary marriages.

“Dr Mbongeni Ngema worked with many teams in line with the systems and structures of the Creative and Cultural Industries, which government has decided to ignore.”

“We are not against the State Funeral but we have been instructed as follows: that the state negotiates with Miss Yolanda Moncho, her legal team, which is the late Dr Mbongeni Ngema’s legal team and the business partners;

They also want the state to desist from engaging Mr Nhlanhla Ngema with immediate effect and recognise the customary marriage between the late Mbongeni Ngema and Moncho.

“Forthwith, as from 12h00 noon on 2nd January 2024, the funeral arrangements, including the memorial service and the actual funeral MUST BE (sic) conducted between the state and Ms Yolanda Moncho.

“We shall wait for your response by 12 noon on 2nd January 2024, after which and if there is no response we are instructed to proceed to the courts of the land to interdict government and Mr Nhlanhla Ngema on an urgent basis,” read the letter.

Moncho wants to decide on funeral

Moncho’s lawyer advocate Christopher Shabangu confirmed the letter.

“We have not yet received a response from the office of the premier. We are still waiting for it. Miss Moncho wants to be involved in the planning of the burial. She is frustrated because Dr Ngema’s family does not want her to be part of the preparations for the burial.

Shabangu said Moncho knows how and where Ngema should be buried.

“She is frustrated that those who were not close to him are making decisions about his burial. She is being blocked by his family,” he said.

Shabangu said she must be given the right to mourn her husband.

Nhlanhla Ngema said he is aware of the letter and has seen it but declined to comment on its contents.

“As a family we have heard about the letter. We are focusing on laying to rest uBaba [Ngema] with dignity [and] deal with the issues after the funeral. We are asking for space as a family because we are grieving. I am not in a good space to comment about the issues in the letter. We will deal with them after the funeral,” said Nhlanhla.

KZN provincial government spokesperson Bongi Gwala said the office of the premier received the letter and forwarded it to Dube-Ncube. Gwala said Dube-Ncube has not yet seen the letter because she is in “another engagement.” Gwala said once the premier sees the letter she will be able to comment on it.

Ngema, raised in the village of eNhlwathi near the rural town of KwaHlabisa, died in a road accident last week. It is believed he was travelling back from a funeral service when he met his untimely death.

Burial on Friday

His nephew Sabelo said although Ngema was not the driver when the vehicle crashed in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.

Nhlanhla said the KZN memorial service will be held at The Playhouse, a theatre in Durban, on Wednesday at 12pm. The funeral service is set to take place at the Durban ICC on Friday.

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