To know Ntombi Ngcobo-Mzolo you need to understand the story of her family; they are all entertainers, cultural guardians and role models. Loren Stow found out how they embody the adage that blood truly is thicker than water.
Our 31-year-old cover model was born into a family of award-winning musicians and she has seen the world, yet she remains passionate about South African cultures. Through it all Ntombi’s proudest achievements lie in a wonderful marriage with her husband Sizwe Mzolo (32), raising their daughter Nomvelo (4), and embracing their soon-to-be-born baby boy, who has been diagnosed in utero with a serious and rare condition. Faith and family are the cornerstones of this story.
The Cultural Nucleus
Ntombi’s father, Bheki Ngcobo, moved to Johannesburg when he was just 17 years old, but anyone would be forgiven for thinking he had raised his children in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), such was his dedication to making the Zulu culture come alive for his four children. “I remember as a child when we returned home from school my father would tell us to take our uniforms off and put them in the cupboard along with our English culture,” she shares. “Then it was time to be Zulu.”
Better known by his entertainment alias of Ihhashi Elimhlophe (meaning ‘white horse’), Bheki and his wife Linah ‘Ebony’ Khama made the East Rand home for their growing family and promising musical careers. Ntombi and her siblings, brothers Nkosinathi and Jabu and sister Vuyisiwe, were born within six years of each other. The children were raised to embrace and fully identify with the Zulu culture of their father who, in addition to teaching them the Zulu language, also made cultural identity fun and engaged his children through songs and stories, explaining various ceremonies and cultural dress. “People cannot believe we weren’t actually raised in KZN,” she says with a smile.
The entire family is musical and born entertainers; the children formed their own group in 1997 called Amaponi (‘pony’ being an ode to their father’s stage name). Like their father, Amaponi also wrote, produced and performed traditional Zulu folk music called Maskandi. “At the time we created Amaponi Kwaito was really becoming popular, yet our father insisted we stick to our roots with our traditional music,” says Ntombi, explaining that their commitment to their culture has been richly rewarding in that all these years later they have travelled the world and are still booked for performances, even though the group is no longer their sole focus.