Barely four months after Mbongeni Ngema sexually harassed a Daily Maverick reporter covering a revival of his classic, Woza Albert, in Cape Town, the 64-year-old playwright, director and producer has been served with a notice by Johannesburg Theatre management to step down as co-director of his iconic musical, Sarafina, due to open on Friday 19 July 2019.
Theatre management has confirmed to Daily Maverick that Ngema, who was co-directing the revival of the world-renowned musical with his brother Nhlanhla Ngema, has been removed from the set after a young female cast member lodged a complaint of harassment and intimidation.
Ngema’s friend and assistant stage manager, Sam Madikane, has also been asked to step down after he had allegedly insisted on relocating to a hotel where young female cast members are being accommodated. The complaint to theatre management is that Madikane had entered the room of a young female cast member who was getting dressed at the time.
“This matter is of serious concern and priority and the management of Joburg Theatre will ensure that it is handled professionally and swiftly,” said Bridget Mashika, acting executive producer at Joburg City Theatres.
Mashika said that as a theatre “the interest of safety for all that use the venue is a priority and as such, an internal investigation is under way. In the interim, Dr Mbongeni Ngema has been served with a notice to step down as the co-director of the production, including the assistant stage manager, Sam Madikane.”
In March 2019 Ngema was in Cape Town for the revival of his classic, Woza Albert, co-written with Percy Mtwa. After the show, Ngema and Mtwa were interviewed by the Daily Maverick reporter. After she had left, Ngema had called and harassed her several times, into the early hours of the morning.
At the time Ngema, when challenged by Daily Maverick, had replied that he did not understand why our reporter had been offended by his persistent approach.
“I don’t know what to respond to ’cause I didn’t insult anyone,” he replied at the time.
The revival of the hugely popular Sarafina, adapted into a multi-award winning film in 1992, is in celebration of Youth Month. The production calls for an extremely young cast who portray students who participated in the 1976 uprisings. It is to be performed on the Mandela Stage at the theatre.
The musical’s original star, Leleti Khumalo, later married Ngema in 1992, but the couple separated in 2005.
Ngema in 2011 announced that he was set to marry Ukhozi FM DJ, Nonhlanhla Mroza Buthelezi, as well as Nompumelelo Gumede, Saleha Nxumalo and Cat Mpanza in separate wedding ceremonies.
He was previously married to Xoliswa Ngema, current CEO of Joburg Theatres, as well as actress Cebisile Mpungose.
Daily Maverick has been reliably informed that Ngema, using the same modus operandi as he had in Cape Town, had persistently called a young cast member professing his love and suggesting they keep it secret.
An informant who is close to the sorry saga said that a series of threatening WhatsApp messages had been sent to “a number of people” who were witnesses to Ngema and Madikane’s predatory behaviour.
Mashika said that the Joburg Theatre, as an entity of the City of Joburg, “fully upholds and protects the human rights, dignity and safety of all who work at the theatre. Furthermore, we take the safety and well-being of young actors and minors as of paramount importance.”
The theatre had also, she said, made the services of a professional counsellor available to cast members for the duration of the season.
Daily Maverick’s WhatApp to Ngema which read “we have just had confirmation from the Joburg Theatre that you have once again been accused of sexually harassing young women who are part of the cast of Sarafina. You have also been removed from having anything to do with the production. Do you have any comment about this latest accusation against you that you are an incorrigible serial sexual predator?”
He had not replied at the time of writing. Attempts to reach Madikane for comment were not successful. Comment from both Ngema and Madikane will be published when it is received.
In 1988, Ngema’s assault on a young cast member during rehearsals for the New York season of Sarafina made headlines. The playwright and musician later defended himself, claiming:
“She annoyed me and the entire cast. I need ultra-discipline during rehearsals and that’s how I get the best results.’’
Ngema was charged by the Performing Arts Worker’s Equity with “corporal punishment” and verbal abuse.
Apart from his serial predatory behaviour, Ngema has also been accused of illegally taking land from a group of residents in Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal. Residents have questioned how Ngema, who is politically connected, was able to obtain the land through the Department of Rural Development. DM