Life im­i­tates art for ac­tor Man­gal­iso Ngema

Just like his Ring of Lies char­ac­ter, ac­tor Man­gal­iso Ngema learnt his daugh­ter didn’t die at birth – now the search is on to find her

DRUM - - Contents - BY THEMBISILE MAKGALEMELE

IT’S the kind of thing that makes for great tele­vi­sion. A daugh­ter pre­sumed to be dead turns out to be alive many years later. A fa­ther is thrilled to dis­cover he has an­other child. Then there’s a dra­matic re­union be­tween two strangers who are bound by blood . . . Fans of Mzansi Magic’s box­ing te­len­ov­ela Ring of Lies were on the edges of their seats when busi­ness­man Vusi Cele was re­united with his daugh­ter, Slindile, whom he thought had died at birth.

But it turned out the baby had been stolen by Ruth (played by Baby Cele), so Sli (Di­neo Nch­a­be­leng) was, in fact, very much alive.

For Man­gal­iso Ngema, who plays Vusi, it was a thrilling sto­ry­line. But in a cruel twist of fate, Man­gal­iso now faces the same rev­e­la­tion – but with­out the happy end­ing that un­folded in the show.

The 46-year-old has dis­cov­ered the daugh­ter he be­lieved to have died 25 years ago in a Mozam­bi­can hospi­tal is still alive.

A deathbed con­fes­sion by the nurse who worked at the hospi­tal where his then-girl­friend gave birth re­vealed the child had been sold to a cou­ple des­per­ate for a baby.

“Our baby was born in Mozam­bique, where my ex stays,” Man­gal­iso tells DRUM in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view about the sit­u­a­tion. To pro­tect her pri­vacy, he won’t di­vulge his ex-girl­friend’s name.

He wasn’t in the de­liv­ery room when she gave birth. “At the time, I was in South Africa and we were both young.

“I didn’t think to ask my ex-part­ner if she’d been given the body to bury,” he says. “I just ac­cepted our baby had died.”

LONG be­fore he met his wife, Bu­sisiwe, Man­gal­iso fell in love with a Mozam­bi­can woman he had met while she was sell­ing prawns to South African restau­rants. They broke up af­ter the “death” of their baby be­cause the long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship couldn’t take the strain of the loss.

Then, in Jan­uary last year, he re­ceived a call from his ex and what she told him shook him to the core.

“My ex told me the nurse’s daugh­ter had been sent by her sick mother to tell

her the baby girl she gave birth to years ago didn’t die. In­stead, the nurse sold her to a cou­ple strug­gling to bear chil­dren.”

They re­quested a meet­ing with the nurse, but it was too late – she’d passed away and her daugh­ter knew lit­tle else of what her mom had done.

Af­ter the life-chang­ing phone call, he “cried ev­ery day”, Man­gal­iso says.

His ex-girl­friend, who has a daugh­ter from an­other re­la­tion­ship, ap­proached the hospi­tal for help, but Man­gal­iso says “the hospi­tal doesn’t have a cul­ture of keep­ing records”.

All trace of their child seems to have been buried along with the nurse who al­legedly sold her. But “we are not ready to give up the search”, Man­gal­iso says.

He won’t rest un­til he’s found his child, he vows. They haven’t yet re­ported the ab­duc­tion to the po­lice as they are pur­su­ing a lead.

The trou­bled fa­ther is also hav­ing a tough time wrap­ping his head around the sit­u­a­tion. “When peo­ple asked me how many chil­dren I have I used to know. Now when peo­ple ask me I don’t know how to an­swer.”

If the lead turns into a dead end, Man­gal­iso says they’ll con­sider hir­ing a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

For now he’s draw­ing strength from his fam­ily. His wife of 13 years, Bu­sisiwe, and his kids – Swazi (25), Khosi (18), Unathi (16), Bu­sani (12) and Mpange (10) – have been sup­port­ive all the way.

It’s not the first time he’s had to lean on them. The for­mer Gen­er­a­tions ac­tor stepped away from the small screen in 2010 to work at a dairy farm.

In 2012 he’d pur­chased a share in the farm in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, with the help of a R17-mil­lion loan from the Mpumalanga gov­ern­ment and the Na­tional Em­pow­er­ment Fund.

De­spite hav­ing no pre­vi­ous busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence, he also poured R2 mil­lion of his own funds into the farm.

He be­lieved his back­ground would stand him in good stead to mar­ket the farm. “I have a pub­lic re­la­tions diploma from Damelin and a mar­ket­ing man­age­ment diploma from the In­sti­tute of Mar­ket­ing Man­age­ment,” he ex­plains.

“I feel my qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence as mar­ket­ing and brand man­ager at var­i­ous com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Co­caCola, pre­pared me well for this role.”

But run­ning a farm re­quires more than mar­ket­ing savvy and the busi­ness col­lapsed af­ter three years. Man­gal­iso found him­self drown­ing in R14-mil­lion debt and had to retrench 17 em­ploy­ees.

He also couldn’t fall back on act­ing work. “One of the con­di­tions of the loan was that I had to be in Mpumalanga to run the farm, so I had to give up my act­ing work. My agent called me for roles in Isi­baya and other tele­vi­sion shows but I de­clined be­cause I wanted the farm to suc­ceed.”

He went back to the draw­ing board and sold the cat­tle. Now the farm pro­duces fresh pro­duce, in­clud­ing maize, which he sells to lo­cal markets. A farm man­ager runs the place but Man­gal­iso vis­its once a week.

Bu­sisiwe, who works in hu­man re­sources, kept the fam­ily afloat fi­nan­cially un­til he landed the Ring of Lies role last year, Man­gal­iso says.

In 2012, Man­gal­iso and Bu­sisiwe had do­mes­tic prob­lems but the fam­ily has man­aged to pull through the dif­fi­cult times. It took them sev­eral months to re­solve their prob­lems, but Bu­sisiwe has been there for her hus­band through thick and thin. “I’m happy Bu­sisiwe was strong to carry us through the dif­fi­cult times,” Man­gal­iso says. “I don’t know how we would have sur­vived with­out her. My wife is amaz­ing.”

Al­though he must pay back the loan, he be­lieves things are look­ing up. “My life is on an up­ward tra­jec­tory,” he says.

WHEN Man­gal­iso isn’t on set or at the farm, he’s work­ing at the foun­da­tion he named af­ter his late mother – 1970s mu­sic icon Pa­tience Africa. The Pa­tience Africa Foun­da­tion deals with food se­cu­rity, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, HIV/Aids, and arts and cul­ture de­vel­op­ment, and is cur­rently in­volved in an HIV/Aids project run­ning tri­als for a pos­si­ble cure in Gaut­eng and Dur­ban.

Man­gal­iso says his mother sup­ported his creativ­ity. “My mother bought me a gui­tar at a young age and [ jazz mu­si­cian] Khaya Mahlangu lived close to our home. He en­cour­aged us to sing. When I was five I was a lead vo­cal­ist for a band and a cur­tain-raiser at my mother’s shows.”

At 14 he toured the world with his mom be­fore he went back to school and got into act­ing. Mu­sic seems to run in the fam­ily. Khosi plays gui­tar, piano and writes songs, Unathi is a dancer, Bu­sani plays drums and the youngest, Mpange, wants to play piano.

Man­gal­iso can’t imag­ine life with­out his fam­ily, but his joy won’t be com­plete un­til he finds his miss­ing daugh­ter.

“It’s painful know­ing your child is out there but you have no idea about any­thing in her life.”

In an un­canny case of life im­i­tat­ing art, ac­tor Man­gal­iso Ngema dis­cov­ered his daugh­ter was stolen at birth 25 years ago and sold to a cou­ple des­per­ate for a baby.

LEFT: Man­gal­iso with four of his five chil­dren with his wife of 13 years, Bu­sisiwe (BE­LOW) – Khozi (18), Mpange (10), Unathi (16) and Bu­sani (12).

Man­gal­iso as Vusi Cele in a scene from Ring of Lies. With him is Slindile (Di­neo Nch­a­be­leng), the daugh­ter Vusi thought had died at birth but later dis­cov­ers was snatched.

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