Obituaries

Mbongeni Ngema, Playwright Best Known for ‘Sarafina!,’ Dies at 68

Mbongeni Ngema, a South African playwright, lyricist and director whose stage works, including the Tony-nominated musical “Sarafina!,” challenged and mocked his homeland’s longtime policy of racial apartheid, died on Wednesday in a hospital in Mbizana, South Africa, after a car accident. He was 68.

Mr. Ngema was a passenger in a car that was struck head on when he was returning from a funeral in Lusikisiki, in Eastern Cape Province, according to a family statement cited in the South African news media.

“His masterfully creative narration of our liberation struggle honored the humanity of oppressed South Africans and exposed the inhumanity of an oppressive regime,” President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said in a post on X after Mr. Ngema’s death.

In the decade before the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the dismantling of apartheid in the early ’90s, the South African system of institutionalized racism was an overwhelming concern to Mr. Ngema. During that decade he cocreated the play “Woza Albert!,” wrote and directed the play “Asinamali!” and wrote the script and collaborated on the music for “Sarafina!”

“Sarafina!” evolved out of a conversation he had in the 1980s with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a prominent anti-apartheid activist who was then married to Mandela.

“I was sitting with Mama Winnie Mandela, and I started thinking, ‘This country is in flames,’” he told the South African television show “The Insider SA” in 2022. “So I asked a question. I said, ‘Mama, what do you think is finally going to happen to this country?’

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