Born at Nhlwathi, KwaHlabisa in KwaZulu-Natal, 1955. Mbongeni Ngema attended Nhlwathi Primary School, and left Nhlwathi to live in Verulam. He then moved to live at Kwa-Mashu E Section. He attended Vukuzakhe High School. From the age of 12 he taught himself to play the guitar. His pursuit of theatre began when he worked in a fertilizer factory where he was enlisted to play guitar accompaniment. Later he joined the acting company of the country’s then major black theatre innovator and entrepreneur, and began to discover the classics of the theatre literature.
Ngema co-wrote his early plays ‘Woza Albert!’ and ‘Asinamali’, he found his company and toured the United States and the rest of the world and won awards internationally. ‘Sarafina’ followed and won eleven NAACP Image Awards, and it was then made into a feature film.
As a composer, Ngema’s biggest album in South Africa was ‘Stimela Sase-Zola’. In 1990, Ngema’s major musical, ‘Township Fever’, about one of the largest and most effective workers’ strikes in African history, travelled from the Market Theatre to America. Also in 1990, Ngema directed his first American work, ‘Sheila’s Day’.
In 1994, Ngema released a song titled ‘African Solution’ which he wrote for the National Peace Committee and it won gold and platinum discs. Ngema was one of the vocal arrangers for the Lion King, Disney’s animated film and he received the multi-platinum award. Moreover Ngema has earned Awards to name a few:
- Gold Medal for Contribution to the world of Art;
- Edinburgh Fringe First Award,
- 1985 AA Vita Award, Best Production – Sarafina Philadelphia Award,
- Best contribution to SA Music – OKTV,
- City Limits Awards for Best Play – London,
- J&B Rare Achievers Award