Kwaito king and crossover hit-maker Mandoza passed away on 18 September 2016; his death follows a diagnosis of pharyngeal cancer a year ago. A consummate live performer, Mandoza appeared live for the last time at the SABC’s Thank You concert in Johannesburg a week before his death.
He leaves behind a prolific body of work that included the smash hit Nkalakatha, loved by South Africans from all walks of life.
Born Mduduzi Tshabalala in Zola, Soweto in 1978, Mandoza took his stage name from a popular 1990s cartoon character, Fat Dog Mendoza. His name was first heard as part of Chiskop, one of the groups at the forefront of kwaito’s rise in social consciousness during the early 1990s. Mentored by kwaito pioneer and impresario Arthur Mafokate, Mandoza began his solo career in 1999.
Together with producer Gabi le Roux, he released the album Nkalakatha (kwaito slang for top dog) in 2000. The title track topped the charts on both black and white radio stations.
The song, with its distinctive riff, catchy chorus and Mandoza’s street tough vocal delivery, become one of South Africa’s first genuine post-democratic crossover classics, an almost unofficial national anthem. It was heard across the country and the world. From international sporting events to shebeens, clubs and boerejols alike, Mandoza got all South Africans dancing, together.
He sang in a number of local languages, including English and Afrikaans, which further cemented his wide appeal across the racial and language divide.
Remembering his collaborator, Le Roux highlighted Mandoza’s unifying factor, telling IOL how the singer had the ability to find audiences even among the most “right-wing and racist” communities and making them think a little more about the rest of the country. “We can take Mandoza as an example that a good song and an artist like that can bring us together,” Le Roux added.
A multiplatinum best-seller, Nkalakatha helped Mandoza sweep the 2001 South African Music Awards. He won five awards, including Song of the Year and Best Male Vocalist.
While he never again reached the heights of the song that made him a household name in South Africa, Mandoza was nonetheless prolific and successful in his post-Nkalakatha career. He released an album a year between 2002 and 2011, including Godoba, Tornado and his popular collaboration with singer Danny K, Same Difference.
In 2004, he was voted the 77th Greatest South African in a nationwide poll, alongside boxer “Baby” Jake Matlala and Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer.
Mandoza’s son, Tokollo Tshabalala, told SABC how proud he was of his father’s personal and professional accomplishments. “My dad died a proud man because he had everything he wanted in life. Every time he’d tell me that he never got a chance to spend time with his dad‚ so all he ever wanted was to raise his children.”
Following his death, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa spoke about how Mandoza had contributed immensely to nation-building through his music: ” (Mandoza) detailed his experiences, the mistakes he had made, and encouraged his audience to reach for their dreams, give back to their communities once successful.”
Mandoza is survived by his wife, Mpho, and his children.
#RIPMandoza: Twitter reacts
— Tlatsa video out!! (@PrinceMopheme) September 18, 2016
— Danny K (@dannykmusic) September 18, 2016
— Mi Casa (@MiCasaMusic) September 18, 2016
— Shaun Pollock (@7polly7) September 18, 2016
#RIPMandoza Another legend gone too soon.
— Gareth Cliff (@GarethCliff) September 18, 2016
Five of Mandoza’s greatest hits
Chiskop – Klaimar
Mandoza – Uzoyithola Kanjani; from his 1999 debut 9-II-5 Zola South
M’du and Mandoza – 50-50
Mandoza – Tornado
Mandoza and Danny K – Friday
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