The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Langalakhe Mabena
WHEN Beatar Mangethe organised a concert at the Large City Hall hot on the heels of the success of her smash hit song, I Come from Makokoba, she did so against the wishes of her long-time mentor Cont Mhlanga, who immediately prophesied her death — artistically that is — though the singer was to have her life cut short in a few years to come.
“What killed Beatar was management. She came to me one day and said ‘uncle, I think I have found a manager’ and I immediately said ‘Beatar, you’re dead’”. The desire to become famous too quick is dangerous.
“I told her that she needed to create her own manager in the same way that she had created her music and her band. She needed someone who understood where she came from and who she is. Not some guy who just drives the flashiest car in town,” said the Amakhosi founder.
Mangethe passed away in June 2010, two months after the death of her husband, Dynamos defensive stalwart Lenny Gwata. Mhlanga, who had been Beatar’s creative director for most of her life, had overseen the rise of Beatar from wannabe sports star to Makokoba’s darling because of her talent as an actress and musician.
“She first came to us when we were at Stanley Square and she did not like us at all. She wanted to join the netball team because at that time we used the netball team to condition the actresses while the actors underwent karate training,” said Mhlanga.
Later on in her career, her love for sports would lead veteran playwright Sihlangu Dlodlo who would pen a television script based on the character of a young Mangethe, a carefree, sports loving girl from Makokoba.
“Beatar loved sports so much, she joined Amakhosi as a football and netball player, however, when she saw her counterparts like Zenzo Nyathi already training for drama and theatre, she joined them. I saw potential in her as an artiste, and that is how the idea of Hlengiwe’s character, which was based on the real Beatar, came into my mind and luckily she portrayed the character the way I pictured it,” said Dlodlo.
It was back in those early days at Amakhosi that Beatar, whose real surname was Khumalo, became Mangethe.
“Beatar Mangethe was a creation of Amakhosi. Her real surname was Khumalo but I decided that her real surname would not work in showbiz because there was already a Lelethi Khumalo in South Africa and so she would seem like a cheap copycat if she stuck to her real surname.
“My thinking was that it would simply be good for branding if she used Khumalo. For two weeks she tried to find a totem that would work for her and I remember rejecting the first two that she brought. In the end we settled for Mangethe,” said Mhlanga.
Amakhosi back in the early 90s was Mhlanga’s lab of sorts, with the arts doyen conducting random experiments which gave the country some of its biggest stars and productions. Even a wizard like him however, had trouble convincing a young Mangethe to take acting seriously as her first love was music.
“Initially Beatar’s passion was not acting but singing. That is what she loved the most. However, I told her that her voice was not good and she needed to do a lot of voice training. For over half-a-year we worked on her and it was not easy at all,” said Mhlanga.
The multi-talented Mangethe’s passion for sport did not lead her to the glamorous stadiums but to the stage, where her rise to stardom began.
“The guys who did netball and karate would meet up when it was time for dance and that’s where the cast of Stitsha was born,” said Mhlanga.
Even though she was an avid sports lover, Mangethe did not like Mhlanga’s notoriously rigorous training exercises, which led to her being overlooked for the main role in the theatre version of Stitsha.
“Beatar was an amazing television actress. She was beautiful and her face was smooth which made her an instant star. However, Beatar was lazy on actual training so we could not use her for the theatre production which required a lot of dance and singing so we went with Joyce Mpofu,” said Mhlanga.
Her sterling display on her small screen debut made her an instant star, with local audiences falling in love with her after her convincing portrayal of a young and provocative Thuli. It was to take over a decade for her to realise her lifelong ambition of becoming a music star.
“When she brought me a jazz song I threw it in a fire at Amakhosi. She was so angry with me that we didn’t speak for two weeks. I told her that she’s a young township girl and she needs to bring that out.
“I told her that a musician is made by one hit song. It took her two years to come up with one. When she played me Makokoba I said now this is your song,” said Mhlanga.
The success of the track, a one of a kind anthem that captured the style and spirit of the city’s oldest township, was bittersweet as it went on to have a negative impact on her life in the long run. According to Mhlanga, the bright lights of superstardom blinded even Mangethe, a stunning actress who had been in the limelight for over a decade.
The show at the Large City Hall was to be the beginning of the end.
“She organised a show at the City Hall. I remember fighting her about it because I felt like she needed to grow her audience gradually in small venues. Instead she put everything she had on that show. When it flopped it destroyed her. It was the end of her. She tried to do what I had told her later on but it was too late.
“I had told her to collaborate with other artistes and she was doing that and I believe by now she would be one of the country’s biggest artistes.
Unfortunately life had other ideas,” said Mhlanga.
Dlodlo, who had adopted Mangethe because of his relationship with her father, Msongelwa Khumalo, remembers the pain and heartbreak of those last days.
“When she was helplessly sick on her bed, she could call me any time and start crying without saying a word. When she died I was just going through the motions as I admitted it was God’s will to take her. I adopted Beatar as my own child because I had a strong connection with her father. Her passing blew away a lot of people,” Dlodlo said.
Seven years after her death Memory Kumbota, one of her closest friends, is still mourning the death of a flower plucked while in full bloom.
“I learnt at Mzilikazi High and so did Beatar. When I watched some kids presenting their piece at Intwasa Arts Festival this year, I wept because they reminded me of Beatar. She loved and lived for the stage”, Kumbota said.