“I just wanted to be alone and cry.” This is how Mthokozisi Ndaba describes what he felt in the bruising days following his defeat to Paxton Fielies in last year’s Idols SA contest.
The 26-year-old isn’t trying to excuse the behaviour that saw him go from hero to zero in the space of a night, but he’s ready to finally set the record straight. His ambition, he says, became his downfall.
“My goal was to get to the top 10 and I achieved it. But once I was in the top 10 I became greedy. I saw myself winning. Suddenly people were falling in love with my music and I was no longer prepared to lose.
Throughout the competition he was the township boy from KwaMashu in Durban with stars in his eyes and the world at his feet. Night after night he blew fans away with his powerful voice and dynamic stage presence – and making him all the more compelling was the fact he had been shot in the legs by robbers at the start of his Idols journey.
Desperate not to let the judges see in case it scuppered his chances, he hid his scars and sang his heart out. Then he watched as fame and glory slipped away.
In a dramatic series of events that will probably haunt him for the rest of his life, he refused to congratulate Paxton and became a national disgrace – going to ground and refusing to speak to the media.
Mthokozisi eventually released a statement apologising for his behaviour but the damage was done – and when a young woman accused him of assault, he appeared to have hit rock bottom.
It’s now six months after the Idols fallout and Mthokozisi admits he couldn’t cope with not taking the title.
“But at the same time in the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t going to win. Day by day I was losing myself, I was emotionally weak and drained and I didn’t want to be there anymore. I was homesick and there was too much pressure. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to pull out of the competition but the Idols team said no.”
This claim is disputed by the show’s spokesperson, Nondumiso Mabece, who is “concerned” by Mthokozisi’s account of events.
“We don’t force contestants to be part of Idols SA. We understand contestants get tired because the competition is strenuous. But on a weekly basis we give them support to ensure they are ready for the competition,” she says.
However, she adds, “the show still has a good relationship with Mthokozisi. We have no problem with him. In fact, we still talk.”
Mthokozisi wades in again. “I wasn’t myself at all [that night]. I wanted to make my sister, my community and my fans proud of me. I couldn’t take the defeat.”
Winning the title of SA Idol would have meant he and his family “could be taken out of poverty”.
“I could have built a proper home for us. It would’ve meant a better life and enhancing my music career. I could see my dreams and everything I’d worked for being trashed in front of my eyes. I was in a very bad space.”
He took another body blow when he was charged with assault a week later by 21-year-old Neo Tsele.
In an interview with DRUM in December she alleged he’d “pushed and grabbed” her when intervening in an argument she was having with her friends at a Braamfontein flat. He only stopped when he saw blood on his hands.
“That’s when I realised I was bleeding from my nose and mouth,” she claimed.
The charge was eventually dropped because of a lack of evidence and Neo no longer wants to talk about it.
“I have closed that chapter,” she says.
Mthokozisi claims he doesn’t know “this lady and I’ve never met her”.
“Yes, I used to visit my friends in Braamfontein but on that particular day I didn’t go there. I was actually in hospital as I wasn’t feeling well and there are records to prove this. This incident didn’t happen.”
He had to appear in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court four times until the charges were withdrawn. Mthokozisi says the incident has left him “hurt, but not bitter”.
“The whole ordeal nearly destroyed my music career though. What I learnt in this industry is that getting in is easy but once you’re out it’s hard to come back.”
The assault accusation cost him 21 gigs, he says, and radio stations were reluctant to play his music.
“I was labelled as bad news. No one wants to be associated with someone with a dirty name. It’s hard. My music career has gone down and I’m struggling to pick it up.”
“I’m still getting side-lined but I’m not going to complain. I just need to work harder to feed my fiancée and my family.”
He wants the “people of South Africa to know the music industry “isn’t as glamorous as it looks”.
“I’ve learnt that the hard way.”
Now he’s trying to put it all behind him. He credits his fiancée, Lockdown actress Nandipha Sefoloko, and his mentor, Bonginkosi Dlamini, better known as actor and kwaito star Zola 7, for their support.
He and Nandipha are expecting a baby later this year – so good things are happening on the personal front.
Mthokozisi credits his lawyer, Tim Sukazi, for “keeping me grounded all the time” and the “many other artists and ordinary people who showed me support”.
He’s keeping busy with his job at Durban radio station Vibe FM and he’s taken up acting – he’s shooting a film called Zimele with Durban Motion Pictures. Things are looking up for him, he believes.
“Right now I’m content with myself,” he says.
“I’m still writing and producing music for other artists too.”
He’s also working on a book about his experiences in the music industry.
“The book is titled Pain and Fame, but I’m still looking for a publisher.”
Nandipha, who has been with him for over two years, has been his rock, he says. Thanks to her and Zola he didn’t need counselling when at his lowest as they provided the help he needed.
He and Zola have been friends since before Idols. “I lived in his house for almost two years and he mentored me. During Idols he warned me about the industry and said I was destined for bigger things.”
“On the night of the finale he told me things might not go my way and not to take it personally, but I still hoped for a miracle.
“When I lost to Paxton I just broke.”
“But just watch,” he adds: he’s going to make a big comeback. He hasn’t given up his dream of becoming a superstar.