Menzi Ngubane Gave Us Everything of Himself in These 10 Roles
As South Africa mourns the passing of veteran actor Menzi Ngubane, we bring you 10 explosive roles he performed in the way only he knew how.
Veteran South African actor Menzi Ngubane passed away this past Saturday from reported stroke complications. He was 56. It would be an understatement to say that his contribution to the entertainment industry is significant, it is far more than that.
Ngubane's illustrious three-decade acting career saw him become a beloved actor to many South Africans—young and old. Many of his characters developed legacies of their own and lived beyond the respective television show or film.
Born in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, Ngubane landed his breakout role in 1987 as Cijimpi in the Zulu drama series Kwakhala Nyonini. From thereon, Ngubane would establish himself over the years as a bonafide television villain in the various characters that everyone absolutely hated but was thoroughly entertained by. Before South Africa had contemporary television thugs in Warren Masemola and Daniel Hadebe, we had Israel Makoe and Ngubane—the latter arguably outperforming them all.
A giant has truly fallen. They don't quite make them as colourful as they did Ngubane anymore. And so in honour of the enduring legacy that Ngubane now leaves behind, here are 10 roles wherein he showed his captivating skill and damn near perfect ability to leave an audience in awe.
1. Kwakhala Nyonini (1987)
For his breakout role in television, Ngubane played Cijimpi in the Zulu drama series which played on SABC channel 1. The show followed Cijimpi as he hilariously negotiated life as a polygamous man, attempting to pay lobola for his two Ndebele wives despite experiencing financial difficulties, rumours of witchcraft around those closest to him and finding another wife after losing one.
2. Ubambo Lwami (1989)
If explosive was personified as a character, it would certainly be Ngubane as the ungovernable and criminal Mazwi in Ubambo Lwami. "Mazwi's in the house!" was the character's infamous phrase which he'd spit out before joyously terrorising people. Needless to say, countless scenes from this show have become entire internet memes which really bears testament to the cultural impact that Ngubane had in this particular performance.
3. Yizo Yizo (1999 - 2004)
Yizo Yizo was arguably one of the best drama series produced during what some consider the golden era of South African television. The show is set in a fictitious township school, Supatsela High, and follows the lives of both students and teachers as the school is terrorised by a violent drop-out and his friends. Ngubane plays the role of Elliot, a charismatic teacher who is an undeniable villain that makes sexual advances towards his students.
4. Gaz'Iam (2002 - 2005)
Gaz'lam was another production developed during South Africa's golden era of television. The show focused on life in the low-income suburb of Yeoville, Johannesburg, and highlighted the HIV/AIDS issue in tandem with themes such as love, sex, relationships and betrayal. Ngubane played the role of Jerome, a crass fellow with little regard for most. This was perhaps his first true role as a villain as he spent his time terrorising and berating the main character Sifiso (Siyabonga Melongisi Shibe) and others.
5. In My Country (2004)
In this feature film, Ngubane starred alongside Samuel L Jackson. Playing the role of Dumi Mkhalipi, the film tells the story of a journalist and poet who meet during the hearings of the infamous and unsuccessful South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which took place in 1996. The TRC was the new democratic country's attempt to address the injustices which had occurred under Apartheid. The film was based on South African poet Antjie Krog's book Country of My Skull (1998).
6. Generations (2003 - 2014)
It was in embattled director Mfundi Vundla's culturally impactful soapie, Generations, that Ngubane solidified his villain status. Generations was initially centred on a wealthy Black family, the Morokas, that owned an ad agency. Ngubane joined the show in 2003 playing the role of S'busiso "Ngamla" Dhlomo, an arch rival to the Moroka family. Ngubane's character brought incredible drama, raw emotion and hair-raising scenes which have seen the South African public continue to refer to Ngubane as S'busiso Dhlomo even years after leaving the show.
7. How to Steal Two Million (2011)
A film by Charlie Vundla, Ngubane plays the lead, Jack, who was sent to prison for a robbery that went bad. His best friend and partner-in-crime, Twala (Rapulana Seiphemo) was never caught and Jack never ratted on him. However, Jack now wants to go legit but needs a large amount of money for his new business venture. Twala proposes one last job that involves targeting his own father. Ngubane leads a star-studded cast featuring the inimitable John Kani, Terry Pheto, Hlubi Mboya and more.
8. Isibaya (2016)
Ngubane played his most recent role as Judas Ngwenya on the popular telenovela Isibaya. Again taking on the role of a villain, Ngubane sees himself as an infamous taxi boss who lives by the gun and eventually dies by the gun. While there were initial reports that his character's death was a result of the show's producers having dumped the veteran actor, Ngubane clarified that the character's story had simply run its course and that he was leaving "a happy man".
9. Ashes to Ashes (2017)
In this television series, Ngubane puts aside his villain persona and plays the role of an upstanding police officer, Detective Nkonzo. The show itself is about the business of funerals with the wealthy Namane family, who are harbouring a dark secret, at the centre of the plot. Ngubane stars alongside a number of his co-stars from Generations in what he described as "reuniting with family" in the video above.
10. Red Cargo (2020)
Ngubane's final leading role is in the feature film, Red Cargo, starring Baby Cele and Daniel Hadebe. The action film follows two undercover agents as they attempt to bring down a rhino poaching syndicate while being hunted down themselves. Filming had been temporarily interrupted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it is unclear whether it will continue and what will become of Ngubane's role.