Leleti Khumalo, the renowned South African actress, recently paid tribute to her late ex-husband, Mbongeni Ngema, following his tragic death in a car crash on December 27, 2023. Ngema, a celebrated playwright and director, was involved in an accident on the R61 road between Mbizana and Magusheni in the Eastern Cape. The cause of the crash remains unclear.
Khumalo, who rose to fame through Ngema’s award-winning film “Sarafina!”, shared an official tribute statement on her social media platforms, expressing deep sadness and shock at Ngema’s passing. She acknowledged Ngema’s pioneering role in protest theatre and his rich legacy in the theatre world. In her tribute, Khumalo extended profound condolences to Ngema’s family, respecting their space to grieve and praying for their strength during this difficult time.
The relationship between Khumalo and Ngema was complex and marked by significant challenges. Despite a 15-year age gap, Khumalo married Ngema, only to end their marriage after 14 years. In a candid 2014 interview on “The Close Up,” Khumalo opened up about her failed marriage, describing it as “disgusting and strange.” She portrayed a facade of happiness while enduring a life far from it. Khumalo’s privacy shielded her struggles from the media, masking the reality of her life with Ngema.
Khumalo also revealed that she was not allowed to participate in several plays, hinting at possible jealousy from Ngema. Her decision to divorce came suddenly one morning, a moment of awakening that led her to publicly announce their separation.
In recent years, Ngema had acknowledged his past abusive behavior in his marriages and had joined the fight against gender-based violence. He admitted to not being “clean” and expressed regret over his actions. Ngema’s journey towards rehabilitation and advocacy against domestic abuse marked a significant turn in his life, showing his commitment to addressing societal issues he once contributed to.
As South Africa mourns the loss of Mbongeni Ngema, the complexities of his life and relationships, particularly with Leleti Khumalo, remain a poignant reminder of the multifaceted nature of public figures. Khumalo’s reflections offer a glimpse into the personal struggles behind their celebrated public personas.