It can be extremely difficult to recover after a losing a loved one and actress Simphiwe Ngema knows a thing or two about that struggle. In this exclusive interview with ZAlebs, the actress talks about honouring her late husband Dumi Masilela’s memory, the healing process and the future.
“Launching Eternal Crush was an emotional roller-coaster, but it was something I knew I would do eventually. Dumi was working on his music a few days before he passed. It was what we were talking about every day, it was what he was working on.”
Though the album has been well received, Simphiwe admits that this is not something she thought she’d ever have the strength to do. “Immediately after Dumi’s death, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t have the strength to wake up, let alone listen to his music. It has taken a lot to get to this point and I now take this as a healing process.”
Simphiwe attributes her ability to stay strong to God and prayer. “In the beginning, I think there was a lot of denial on my end, but I was also closer God because I felt like this was bigger than me. The only thing that made sense for me was God, nothing and no one made sense to me, not even waking up in the morning. I wasn’t angry at God for taking my best friend away at that time, I was angry at Dumi. I’d think what if he did have a choice, because I don’t know what happens spiritually, what if God asked him if he wanted to stay of go and he chose to go. Those thoughts would make me angry."
She says she asked God a lot of questions. "Like 'did you really think I’m strong enough for this? Did you and Dumi really think I could handle this?' But you grow and understand that as humans we have our own purpose, then there’s God’s purpose.“
Since Dumi’s death, Simphiwe says she feels like her purpose in life has shifted immensely. “I always believed that my purpose was to get married to Dumi and we’d be an example to the couples that were coming behind us that it can actually work, and you can do things right and prosper but God had other plans, so my purpose has now shifted, I believe that my purpose is to show strength and show that God is alive.”
Life without my best friend
Anyone who knew Dumi and Simphiwe together, knew that they were best friends. “Dumi and I did everything together, so for the longest time after his death, I couldn’t eat, sleep or do anything because I did everything with him. I would call him before I eat, if he wasn’t eating, I’d wait for him to eat, we’d get home and eat together, sleep on the same bed, we shared everything. So, after he died, when a plate was put on the table for me, I’d literally think 'where’s Dumi? Has he eaten where he is?' Then I wouldn’t be able to eat because what if he hasn’t eaten, but the worst part is that I can’t even call him and ask him that anymore.”
Why isn’t the world stopping for me?
According to psychologists, it's the second year after loss that brings new concerns. Support groups are less available, and family and friends return to their own lives. Simphiwe does attest to this. “Life goes on and you get angry at life, you get angry at the clock for ticking, you get angry at the fact that people are going to work. You feel like your world has ended yet everyone else is carrying on," she shares.
Though it was a hard pill to swallow, Simphiwe admits that she had to realise that Dumi was her life, and not everyone will feel the way she felt about his death. “I had to quickly realise that Dumi was a part of people’s lives - whether it’s his best friend or siblings or mother - he was a part of their life, but he was MY life, that’s the difference. So, I can’t expect other people to understand and grieve the same way as I do. I’ve learnt not to be angry at people for moving on with their lives because at first I’d think 'geez, am I the only one that still cares? Am I the only one who still wants to keep his memory alive?' It is then I had to understand that he’s a part of their lives, their lives aren’t going to stop, but because he was my life, my life is going to stop.”
Back to reality
“I started working three months after Dumi passed away and the first three months were the most difficult. I would stay in the house and not go anywhere but church,” Simphiwe recalls.
“But I got to a point were bills were piling up. I had to wake up and say 'girl, you need to go work.' Luckily for me I got Broken Vows. I remember how nervous I was on my first day, I hadn’t seen people in three months so I didn’t know how people would react to me. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me but I was lucky my colleagues were not like that at all, it also helped that my best friend, Jo-Anne Reyneke was there.”
Jo-Anne Reyneke is Simphiwe Ngema’s best friend, who also introduced her to Dumi. “Jo-Anne and I met when we were teenagers, we were auditioning for the same role and we’ve been close ever since. She’s the one who actually introduced me to Dumi because they worked together on Rhythm City. Jo-Anne and Dumi were quite close, she understood the both of us, our relationship and how much we loved each other.” Simphiwe says she didn’t realise how much pain her friend Jo-Anne was in until recently. “Jo-Anne recently said to me that she doesn’t understand why this had to happen, she said she doesn’t believe that she was meant to bring this pain to me, because she was the one who introduced us. That hurt me because I then realised that she’s not only going through the pain of losing a friend, but she’s also going through the pain of seeing me in pain.”
The blame game
Dumi died after suffering a gunshot wound from a botched hijacking. “The night Dumi was shot, he was supposed to come pick me up and go home together and when I didn’t hear anything from him, I figured he was busy in studio so I asked my brother to take me home. On our way home, about three houses away I get a call that he’s been shot in Tembisa. I rushed there, when we got there he was still fine.”
Simphiwe says she didn’t think Dumi wasn’t going to make it because of how he was when she saw him. “We kept talking, he looked fine, there was not a lot of blood, he had a very small bullet hole so I didn’t think that was the end. He didn’t even look like he was going to die, he wasn’t running out of air or anything like that. After he died, I started blaming myself, I kept thinking 'gosh, if only we took him to a different hospital, if only I had called him earlier, maybe it would’ve have been him.' You do think of those things and start blaming yourself but you have to get to a point where you can say, there’s absolutely nothing I could’ve done about this situation, everything was meant to happen the way it happened.”
The actress announced on social media that she would take the ring off after a year of Dumi’s death, it’s been a year and a couple of months and she still wears the ring. “For people who don’t me, when they see the ring, they ask if I married then I’ve have to explain that I’m a widow, which then turns the conversation sad, but also when I’m at home, it reminds me of him and it brings a smile to my face, so I have a love-hate relationship with this ring," Simphiwe says while laughing. “I take off the ring when I’m at work because my character isn’t married, but recently I forgot to put the ring back on after shooting and on my way home, while driving I realised that I wasn’t wearing my ring. I got a mini panic attacked and felt extremely anxious, it was then I realised that I wasn’t ready to take it off. I will take it off the day I feel ready, I don’t know when that will be.”
Simphiwe is stronger and doing better than she was this time last year, but she says it doesn’t mean she’s not in pain anymore. “The pain doesn’t get better, you get stronger, you carry the pain better.” And, to anyone going through what she’s going through, the actress says it’s ok to not be ok. “There are going to be days when you don’t want to wake up, it’s going to get harder before it gets better. It gets really hard but let yourself feel what you feel. Cry, get angry, scream, feel your pain.”