It’s the kind of thing that makes for great television. A daughter presumed to be dead turns out to be alive many years later. A father is thrilled to discover he has another child.
Then there’s a dramatic reunion between two strangers who are bound by blood . . . Fans of Mzansi Magic’s boxing telenovela Ring of Lies were on the edges of their seats when businessman Vusi Cele was reunited with his daughter, Slindile, whom he thought had died at birth. But it turned out the baby had been stolen by Ruth (played by Baby Cele), so Sli (Dineo Nchabeleng) was, in fact, very much alive.
For Mangaliso Ngema, who plays Vusi, it was a thrilling storyline. But in a cruel twist of fate, Mangaliso now faces the same revelation – but without the happy ending that unfolded in the show.
The 46-year-old has discovered the daughter he believed to have died 25 years ago in a Mozambican hospital is still alive. A deathbed confession by the nurse who worked at the hospital where his then-girlfriend gave birth revealed the child had been sold to a couple desperate for a baby.
“Our baby was born in Mozambique, where my ex stays,” Mangaliso tells DRUM in an exclusive interview about the situation. To protect her privacy, he won’t divulge his ex-girlfriend’s name.
He wasn’t in the delivery room when she gave birth. “At the time, I was in South Africa and we were both young. “I didn’t think to ask my ex-partner if she’d been given the body to bury,” he says. “I just accepted our baby had died.”
Long before he met his wife, Busisiwe, Mangaliso fell in love with a Mozambican woman he had met while she was selling prawns to South African restaurants.
They broke up after the “death” of their baby because the long-distance relationship couldn’t take the strain of the loss. Then, in January last year, he received a call from his ex and what she told him shook him to the core.
'The nurse sold her'
“My ex told me the nurse’s daughter had been sent by her sick mother to tell her the baby girl she gave birth to years ago didn’t die. Instead, the nurse sold her to a couple struggling to bear children.” They requested a meeting with the nurse, but it was too late – she’d passed away and her daughter knew little else of what her mom had done. After the life-changing phone call, he “cried every day”, Mangaliso says.
His ex-girlfriend, who has a daughter from another relationship, approached the hospital for help, but Mangaliso says “the hospital doesn’t have a culture of keeping records”. All trace of their child seems to have been buried along with the nurse who allegedly sold her. But “we are not ready to give up the search”, Mangaliso says.
He won’t rest until he’s found his child, he vows. They haven’t yet reported the abduction to the police as they are pursuing a lead. The troubled father is also having a tough time wrapping his head around the situation.
“When people asked me how many children I have I used to know. Now when people ask me I don’t know how to answer.” If the lead turns into a dead end, Mangaliso says they’ll consider hiring a private investigator. For now he’s drawing strength from his family. His wife of 13 years, Busisiwe, and his kids – Swazi (25), Khosi (18), Unathi (16), Busani (12) and Mpange (10) – have been supportive all the way.
It’s not the first time he’s had to lean on them. The former Generations actor stepped away from the small screen in 2010 to work at a dairy farm. In 2012 he’d purchased a share in the farm in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, with the help of a R17-million loan from the Mpumalanga government and the National Empowerment Fund. Despite having no previous business experience, he also poured R2 million of his own funds into the farm. He believed his background would stand him in good stead to market the farm.
“I have a public relations diploma from Damelin and a marketing management diploma from the Institute of Marketing Management,” he explains. “I feel my qualifications and experience as marketing and brand manager at various companies, including CocaCola, prepared me well for this role.” But running a farm requires more than marketing savvy and the business collapsed after three years.
Mangaliso found himself drowning in R14-million debt and had to retrench 17 employees. He also couldn’t fall back on acting work. “One of the conditions of the loan was that I had to be in Mpumalanga to run the farm, so I had to give up my acting work. My agent called me for roles in Isibaya and other television shows but I declined because I wanted the farm to succeed.” He went back to the drawing board and sold the cattle. Now the farm produces fresh produce, including maize, which he sells to local markets. A farm manager runs the place but Mangaliso visits once a week. Busisiwe, who works in human resources, kept the family afloat financially until he landed the Ring of Lies role last year, Mangaliso says.
'I’m happy Busisiwe was strong to carry us through'
In 2012, Mangaliso and Busisiwe had domestic problems but the family has managed to pull through the difficult times. It took them several months to resolve their problems, but Busisiwe has been there for her husband through thick and thin. “I’m happy Busisiwe was strong to carry us through the difficult times,” Mangaliso says. “I don’t know how we would have survived without her. My wife is amazing.” Although he must pay back the loan, he believes things are looking up. “My life is on an upward trajectory,” he says.
When Mangaliso isn’t on set or at the farm, he’s working at the foundation he named after his late mother – 1970s music icon Patience Africa. The Patience Africa Foundation deals with food security, environmental issues, HIV/Aids, and arts and culture development, and is currently involved in an HIV/Aids project running trials for a possible cure in Gauteng and Durban.
Mangaliso says his mother supported his creativity. “My mother bought me a guitar at a young age and [jazz musician] Khaya Mahlangu lived close to our home. He encouraged us to sing. When I was five I was a lead vocalist for a band and a curtain-raiser at my mother’s shows.” At 14 he toured the world with his mom before he went back to school and got into acting.
Music seems to run in the family. Khosi plays guitar, piano and writes songs, Unathi is a dancer, Busani plays drums and the youngest, Mpange, wants to play piano. Mangaliso can’t imagine life without his family, but his joy won’t be complete until he finds his missing daughter. “
It’s painful knowing your child is out there but you have no idea about anything in her life.”