Mbongeni Ngema (1955-2023)


By Jake Kanter | Deadline

Mbongeni Ngema, the South African creator of Whoopi Goldberg film Sarafina!, has died in a car accident. He was aged 68.

Ngema’s family announced his death in a statement, revealing that he was killed in a head-on collision December 27 while returning from a funeral he had attended in Lusikisiki, South Africa. He was a passenger in the vehicle.

Ngema is best known for creating the musical Sarafina!, which premiered on Broadway in 1988 and was later adapted into a vehicle for Goldberg in 1992.

It told the story of a young student’s fight against racial segregation in apartheid South Africa after her teacher was jailed.

Ngema was a writer, lyricist, composer, director, choreographer, and theater producer. His other major credits include vocal arranging on The Lion King.

In a statement, Sarafina! producer Anant Singh said: “We have lost a trailblazing creative talent who fearlessly brought awareness of South Africa under apartheid to a global audience using the theatre as a platform.

“He has left an indelible mark on South African theatre and the creative industries as a whole. This is clearly demonstrated by the timelessness of Sarafina! the film

“Mbongeni was an inspiration and mentored many young artists who are now household names. His passing leaves a deep void but he leaves a rich legacy that will endure for posterity.”

Sarafina! premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and returned this year as part of the event’s Cannes Classics strand.