‘We've lost a gem’ – family, friends and colleagues remember Menzi Ngubane

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Sophie Lichaba at the memorial service of colleague and friend Menzi Ngubane.
Sophie Lichaba at the memorial service of colleague and friend Menzi Ngubane.
Sharon Seretlo/Galloimages

The death of veteran actor Menzi Ngubane sent shock waves around the country.

There had been false speculation about his death in the past, but when the Ngubane family confirmed it on the evening of 13 March, the country came to a halt.

Ngubs, as he was affectionately known by close friends and family, died from a stroke after battling with a kidney illness for many years. 

In a room filled with emotion and grief, his loved ones and colleagues gathered yesterday at the Assemblies of God Church in Sandton to pay tribute to a man who they described as fatherly, compassionate, and passionate about the craft of acting.

They also acknowledged the huge role his wife, Sikelelo Sishubo, played in his life.

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“I have lost a father on and offscreen,” said Isibaya actor Abdul Khoza, who played Menzi’s son on the show.

“He changed my life. When I first met him, I never imagined he would be what he was to me. Faced with any problem, I would confide in him.

“I had given up on acting and went back to my job as a firefighter. When I decided to come back and I was cast to play his son on Isibaya, he was strict, like I was his own. He said that if I wanted to play his son on-screen, I needed to be sure and give it my all – and I won a SAFTA because of the amount of work he put in me.”

The two become so close that Abdul was Menzi’s best man when he wed Sikelelo Sishubo. His respect for the man ran deep.

“As a young actor, I don’t think I am worthy to even speak on a man of his magnitude. It was an honour to have had him in my life.”

In 2014, Menzi and 15 other cast members were fired from the set of Generations after demanding a salary increase. One of those actors was Thato Molamu, who later became close to Menzi and met his wife.

“Any husband wishes they had a wife like ous Siki to carry them through hard times,” he said.

Thato also praised the actor’s professionalism and mentor role.

“Menzi was always the first one on set. He read everyone’s storylines and knew what each character is doing. And he was a family man. He said get married, settle down, don’t be all over the show. He said we live in a painful industry, so we should be disciplined.”

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He was a man who stood up for the rights of others, said motivational speaker and actor Patrick Shai.

“Menzi was an activist – he wanted things to be done right. He never kept quiet about things.

“But had it not been for his wife, Menzi would not have been able to smile on set. His children and family kept him young and alive for us to enjoy him in the workplace,” he said.

Patrick added he’d like others to follow in Menzi’s footsteps.

“Let’s create an industry that takes care of its actors – that is my wish. We cannot continue to say the same thing again and again. He battled the industry issues while battling his health issues.”

He was an immaculate actor who got involved at every level, said the production team who worked with Menzi in his early acting days on Yizo Yizo season two.

“Menzi liked a sense of occasion,” said Bomb Production’s Desiree Markgraaff. “Attention to detail was important to him. In the preproduction phase, Menzi was always there to make the character special and bring him to life. He was larger than life.”

The overwhelming feeling was gratitude for being part of his life in some way.

“Thank you to the family for allowing him to share his talent. We’ve lost a gem,” said SABC representative, David Makubyane.

“Menzi was an actor I looked up to. He inspired a lot of young boys. Condolences to the family, may he rest in peace.”

Menzi will be laid to rest on 20 March at his birthplace, Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal.

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