Former Uzalo actress Thandeka Zulu on her bundle of joy with Sabelo Ngema

Thandeka Zulu and Sabelo Ngema (PHOTO: Drum)
Thandeka Zulu and Sabelo Ngema (PHOTO: Drum)

For years they denied being a couple. But there was that little matter of a bulging belly that could no longer be denied – and the lovebirds were forced to admit they were dating.

Afrosoul lead singer and former Uzalo actress Thandeka Zulu recently welcomed her bundle of joy into the world, and now the new mom and her fiancé, Sabelo Ngema, tell DRUM they’re planning their dream wedding.

Long before she became pregnant, Sabelo knew Thandeka was marriage material. “I decided in my heart she’s the one – she ticked all the right boxes and I couldn’t let her go,” he says. In January 2016 he paid seven cows to Thandeka’s uncles as part of his lobola payment.

“Initially her family demanded 16 cows, but I negotiated to pay at least 11 cows,” he smiles. The Afrosoul founder won’t disclose the cost of the cows but Sabelo (37) says Thandeka (26) is worth every cent. “I still need to pay the remaining four cows, then we can get married. We haven’t set a date yet, but it’s going to happen soon.” Tying the knot is something they’ve given a lot of thought, Thandeka adds. They discussed marriage some time ago and gave each other space to think about it. But now they have a new priority – their baby boy, iWundlu LamaDlokovu, who was born in June.

“We’re not in a rush and we’re not scared to do it,” Sabelo says. He beams as he watches Thandeka nurse their little one. At two months old he’s got his parents wrapped around his little finger. iWundlu is Sabelo’s fourth child – the muso has an 18-year-old son and two daughters aged eight and six from previous relationships. He’s a hands-on dad to his other kids but he describes Thandeka’s pregnancy as a magical time in his life.

“I’ve been part of his life from day one, since conception,” he laughs. “As a matter of fact, she didn’t even know she was pregnant until I told her. We had agreed to use contraceptives, but that month she forgot to use her patch.” He first suspected Thandeka was pregnant after noticing her mood swings. “We started having fights about silly things and she had random mood swings and her breasts were fuller. I suggested she take a pregnancy test. When the test came back positive they were overjoyed. And they were blessed with a smooth pregnancy, Sabelo says.

 “My fiancée had no complications, no morning sickness, no weight gain whatsoever, but I had all those complications. It felt like I was the pregnant one – I even gained weight!”

The sympathy symptoms he experienced during Thandeka’s pregnancy were all worth it, Sabelo says. “ iWundlu’s birth was particularly special to me because it was the first time I went into a labour ward to witness the birth of my child. I was also there when the pre-labour pains started.” They lasted about two days.

“She was rushed to hospital when the pain came back with greater intensity. When she finally gave birth I was by her side, massaging her and holding her hand. “I witnessed everything except the actual birth of the child. I just didn’t want to. I felt it’s sacred.” But for Thandeka, just having Sabelo by her side was enough. “I enjoyed every moment of my pregnancy. It was blissful and I had no complications,” she says.

She ate “everything” and eight months into her pregnancy took a liking to ice cream and vanilla custard. “Sabelo had to wake up at night and go buy it at the garage when I had cravings,” she recalls. Thandeka is already back at work. As the breadwinner in her family she looks after her mother, Nokuthula Vezi (59), her brother, Bongani Msomi (36) and her niece, Noxolo Msomi (12).

“My salary depends on gigs and if I’m not working it means no salary. Fortunately, my mother offered to babysit the child. This allowed me to go back to work quickly,” she says. As a young mom she’s grateful to her mother, who “guides and helps me raise the child”. Despite being engaged Thandeka doesn’t live with Sabelo. “I’m a Zulu girl and according to my culture I have to stay at my mother’s place for at least three months. We can visit Sabelo briefly, but we can’t stay with him permanently. Once the lobola process is finalised and the baby is old enough then we can move in with him.”

Their lives have certainly changed but Thandeka says their boy is a blessing. “As much as we didn’t plan to have this baby, I don’t regret anything. We’ve learnt to be more tolerant towards each other and we’re even more organised knowing there’s an extra person who needs our attention. Every day is a learning curve, and we want to be hands-on.”

When they’re not on stage or promoting their music, the pair are at home taking care of their son. “We take turns to feed him and change him and whenever Sabelo’s around he baths him. Sabelo is an amazing father,” she gushes. The proud dad took great joy in naming his son. “I named him iWundlu LamaDlokovu because it’s a powerful and unique name. A friend suggested it and after researching the meaning I decided it was perfect. His name resonates with culture, religion and even nature – it represents everything that’s good,” he says. To honour his dad, Thandeka added Thamuji which is a combination of her name and Sabelo’s stage name, “Muji”.

The couple met in 2000 when Thandeka was 8. “I used to perform in my neighbour’s group, Lindokuhle. The founder, Babo Mzobe, was Sabelo’s student and he used to come and watch Babo’s work.” It was through Babo she got into acting. “He’d come back and teach us whatever he learnt from the Mbongeni Ngema Academy – he taught me to act, sing and dance.”

 She didn’t just find love with the Ngemas – Thandeka says Sabelo’s uncle, Sarafina! creator Mbongeni Ngema, also launched her acting career. “That’s where I started – in his theatre productions.” She got her big break with Uzalo, she recalls. “When I started on Uzalo I was given a cameo role but then the producers extended my contract to two years.”

The multitalented star joined Afrosoul when she was 16 and they started dating a few years after that in 2010. “But then we broke up. In 2012 we tried again, and we’ve been dating ever since,” says Sabelo. They tried to keep their relationship private and denied dating each other until recently. “We wanted people to concentrate on our music,” Sabelo says.

 “We knew that if we allowed the public to be part of our relationship, it could destroy the Afrosoul brand and even our relationship.” But now they’ve thrown caution to the wind and they can’t wait to get married, Sabelo says. “I love kids and I want as many as possible.”

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