One of South Africa’s most interesting women performing artists was Princess Magogo, more correctly known as Constance Magogo Sibilile Manthithi Ngangezinye kaDinuzulu Buthelezi. The princess was born in 1900 to King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo and Queen Silomo. In 1926 the princess married Chief Mathole Buthelezi, and she is mother to Chief Magosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha Freedom Party leader.
Princess Magogo was a musician, and a performer and composer of Zulu music. She was gifted both vocally and in playing traditional Zulu music instruments like the isigubhu (a stringed bow and a calabash instrument) and the isithontolo (a bow which has a string bound down to the middle of the bow. She contributed to the development of traditional Zulu music throughout her life, preserving much of it by training a multitude of young singer. Without her a great deal of this traditional music would be lost today.
Most imbongi (praise singers) are male, but she took this role on, lamenting her marriage and the lives of the Zulu people. Her work was often recorded and played on radio both in South Africa and abroad. The princess continued performing in public, accompanying her singing with the ugubhu.
Princess Magogo died in 1984, but in December 2003 she was posthumously awarded the South African National Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for a life of prolific musical composition, and an outstanding contribution to the preservation and development of traditional music in South Africa.
An opera telling out her life story was composed for Opera Africa by Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo and Sibongile Khumalo, South Africa’s first lady of song, sang the title role at its premiere.