A few eyebrows were raised during Mbongeni Ngema’s memorial service held at The Playhouse in Durban on Wednesday.
Those who are not following South African politics and the shenanigans in entertainment closely would be forgiven for not paying attention to the glaring and obvious politics and gamesmanship that overshadowed the sombre moment.
Programme director Mandla KaNozulu set the tone for what would be an embarrassing set of episodes on the day when the jovial mood was at its zenith, with speaker after speaker having glowingly spoken about the role Ngema played in theatre.
After thanking members of Sarafina! – who had just paid tribute to Ngema on stage – KaNozulu told the audience that in Harlem City, in New York, May 9 has been declared the Mbongeni Ngema Day.
However, as the round of applause followed and receded, there was no explanation why, in the same breath, KaNozulu didn’t mention Duma kaNdlovu, the Muvhango creator.
Both kaNdlovu and Ngema were honoured by congressman Charles Regal in 2016, declaring May 9 as Duma Ndlovu and Mbongeni Ngema Day, recognising the acclaimed playwrights’ contributions to the arts in the US during the apartheid era.
As if this were not enough, the ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Siboniso Duma caused a stitr when he didn’t bother to acknowledge Jacob Zuma, who a few minutes earlier had been welcomed amid ululation and chanting screams of the audience acknowledging the country’s former president.
The ANC strongman and MEC for Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs simply acknowledged KZN premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, former KZN premier and ambassador Sbu Ndebele and his wife and ambassador Bridgette Motsepe.
Interestingly, premier Dube-Ncube, in her opening remarks, said: “I would like to greet our president, former president uNxamalala,” eliciting wild clapping and a “Zuma! Zuma!” chant from the audience.
Duma’s snubbing of Zuma painted a clear message that the battle lines have been drawn between the ANC and Zuma, who is openly campaigning for the new political party, the MK Party.
Like Duma and Zuma, KaNozulu and kaNdlovu used to be allies not so long ago. The duo worked collaboratively at the Word of Mouth Productions.
But after getting wild praise for spectacularly getting Mzansi Magic’s riveting drama Umkhokha off the ground two years ago, the two suddenly became bitter enemies.
Unconfirmed reports suggest kaNozulu was frog marched out of the production studios owing to an undisclosed disagreement with kaNdlovu.
There were other reports that kaNozulu was fired as CEO for alleged mismanagement of funds at the Muvhango production.