Joseph Shabalala’s wife Thoko on their love story: 'I’ve had good times with my husband'

Thoko and Joseph Shabalala at their home. (Photo:Zama Chutshela)
Thoko and Joseph Shabalala at their home. (Photo:Zama Chutshela)

On Tuesday morning, it was confirmed that Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala had die at Life Eugene Marais Hospital, age 78.

Although his life was cut short, his legacy lives on in the hearts of those who loved him. Closest to him was his wife of 17 years, Thoko Shabalala.

DRUM recently had an interview with Thoko at the couple’s home in Clermont, Durban where she took us through how Joseph’s love had changed her life when they met in 2002.

When we meet her at their home Thoko tells us Joseph retired from the Grammy-winning group in 2014 – the same year his health deteriorated.

“He had a problem with his spinal cord, which affected his mobility. An operation was performed but didn’t work,” Thoko explains. “He can walk but not as fast as he used to; he needs to be supported. His eyesight has also deteriorated, which makes things even harder for him.” Age has also taken a toll on Joseph. “He’s weak but he is coping. He still enjoys travelling, reading and listening to gospel music but, due to his poor health, he spends most of his time here at home.”

Joseph wasn’t well enough to sit in on our interview but Thoko says the family keeps him up to date with Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s progress. “He might be out of sight but he’s still very close to the group. He is very much aware of what’s happening in the group.”

Thoko, who’s been married to Joseph for 17 years, says prayer has always been a cornerstone for her husband. His faith is one of the qualities that attracted her to Joseph when they met in Ladysmith at Thoko’s shop where Joseph was a regular customer. Joseph’s wife, Nellie, had been gunned down outside their house the year he met Thoko.

“We dated for three weeks then we got married,” Thoko tells DRUM. “He made his intentions clear from the start: he wanted to marry me. I knew he was a Christian because he kept quoting verses from the Bible trying to impress me. I was mesmerised by his love,” she said in the 2018 interview.

Joseph swept Thoko off her feet and travelled the world with her while touring with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “I’ve had good times with my husband. We used to travel together and have fun but sometimes he’d leave me behind depending on the nature of the tour and our schedules.”

When she wasn’t touring with her husband Thoko stayed home and looked after their children and grandchildren. Their heady days of seeing the world hand in hand may be over but Thoko has no regrets.

“With him I’ve become a better person, I have learned respect and obedience and I pray a lot because he values prayer.” She said.

Joseph is survived by his four children Sibongiseni Shabalala, Thulani Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala and Msizi Shabalala.

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