Final curtain call for beloved Nomhle Nkonyeni

Granddaughters Mpho Nkonyeni, Vuyokazi Nkonyeni, niece Zandile Nkonyeni and Thandiwe Nkonyeni at the funeral of Nomhle ‘Hlehle’ Nkonyeni at the Nangoza Jebe Hall
Granddaughters Mpho Nkonyeni, Vuyokazi Nkonyeni, niece Zandile Nkonyeni and Thandiwe Nkonyeni at the funeral of Nomhle ‘Hlehle’ Nkonyeni at the Nangoza Jebe Hall
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

On the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, President Cyril Ramaphosa saw fit to make this Nomhle’s year.

These were the words of Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, who added that, “while it was a wrap this side, it is lights, camera, action on the other side”.

Mabuyane shared these sentiments during the eulogy for stage and screen doyen Nomhle Nkonyeni, 77, at her final curtain call on Friday.

He was among the thousands who gathered at the Nongoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton for the funeral.

Nkonyeni died in hospital on July 10 after a short illness.

Mabuyane said the Order of Ikhamanga was not a status that was awarded to everyone by the president – it was given to the distinguished individuals with an unmatched contribution to the project of liberating South Africa.

“Like the right piece of a puzzle, Nomhle fits perfectly into this category,” he said.

“We are profoundly grateful that the president saw it fit to make the 25th anniversary of our democracy Mama Hlehle’s year and time [of recognition].

“And like she said, ‘it was long overdue’.”

Mabuyane was among several prominent South Africans, including minister of sports, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa, Eastern Cape sports, arts and culture MEC Fezeka Bayeni, Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Mongameli Bobani, Ringo Madlingozi, and actors Charmaine Mtinta and Mlamli Mangcala, who attended the funeral.

Mabuyane said Nkonyeni had left unfinished business and he would see to it that artists no longer had to go to Johannesburg to establish themselves.

He said the office of the premier would start working towards establishing an academy for theatre practitioners in the province.

Mthethwa said since he going to die yet).

“Truly Ma’Mpangela, we did not expect your passing,” Mthethwa said.

He said when the Living Legends was formed, the objective had been to recognise legends while they were still alive.

“So much has been said about Hlehle’s life and history, and I want to concentrate on two issues, the life of an artist in South Africa and secondly the kind of projects she [Nkonyeni] wanted to see emerge.”

Mthethwa said it was unacceptable to only gather once an artist died, saying that Nkonyeni had told him that she wanted her children – theatre practitioners – to be prioritised.

“She said we should not discuss nonsense in parliament, especially regarding things that affect us as artists.

“And that was my first introduction to Nomhle, and she ended in saying she was not asking, but telling me,” he said.

Many shared tributes confirming the love Nkonyeni shared, which was evident in the number of people who weathered the wind and rain to bid their mother, aunt, grandmother, mentor and neighbour farewell.

Her son, Teboho Nkonyeni, said he was humbled by the support and that he had not really known what his mother meant to New Brighton and South Africa until now.

Composed but heavy-hearted, Teboho said his mother had been an amazing woman.

“In 1966 we first met, and it was love at first sight. Two years later my sister was born, and Hlehle loved us. She raised us, grooming us on what a brother is and what a sister is.

“She told me as a man I must love myself and all those around me regardless of who they are or what they have.”

He said although during his last visit to his mother he could see that she was not getting any better, nothing could have prepared him for her death.