2023 celeb deaths | Gone but will never be forgotten

todayJanuary 1, 2024 109

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While 2023 has been a year of successes and new talent emerging, it has also been marked by the loss of some of South Africa’s big names in the arts and culture sector.

One of the most notable deaths, which has left a huge gap in the music scene and to some still feels like a dream, was that of Kiernan ‘AKA’ Forbes. The 35-year-old celebrated rapper, record producer, and businessman, was killed in February ahead of a performance at Yugo nightclub in Durban.

He was shot at point-blank range outside the now defunct restaurant, Wish, after having had dinner with friends. When tragedy struck he had been standing with another friend, Tebello Motsoane, who was also fatally shot. Their assailants are believed to have been hired hitmen.

In September, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the investigators were close to cracking the double-murder case. However, there hasn’t been any tangible outcome of those investigations yet.

AKA has since been posthumously honoured by the industry. He recently scooped three awards at the South Africa Music Awards (Samas).  He has also been crowned the MTV Base Hottest MC of the Year and at the BET Hip Hop Awards he was honoured for his “extraordinary contributions” with the Global Visionary Award.

Mbongeni Ngema’s death, two days after Christmas, also sent shockwaves across the world.

The 68-year-old legendary playwright and musician died in a car crash returning home to KwaZulu-Natal from a funeral in the Eastern Cape.

Ngema is the creator of world acclaimed musical Sarafina!, which featured Oscar winner, Whoopi Goldberg.

He is largely-known for his plays, which reflected the spirit of black South Africans under the racist apartheid system in the 1980s.

In post-apartheid South Africa, he used his pen to raise awareness about the scourge of HIV/Aids, which had largely been ignored during apartheid. But the R14-million Sarafina 2 production, which was funded by the state, never saw the light of day after the Public Protector found it to had been an unathorised expenditure and its message on the scourge was inadequate.

In 2002, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA, also banned his song AmaNdiya, in which he accused the country’s Indian community of racism and exploitation.

The BCCSA said that the song incited hatred.

Ngema refused to apologise for the song after the late former president, Nelson Mandela, asked him to.

The passing of Bulelwa Mkutukana, affectionately known as Zahara, earlier this month is another that has left a gaping hole in the hearts of many South Africans.

The 36-year-old passed away after almost a month in hospital due to alleged liver complications.

The multi-award-winning artist, captured hearts and souls with her top debut album, Loliwe, which was released in 2011.

“She was a pure light, and an even purer heart, in this world. A beacon of hope, a gift, and a blessing to us and countless people around the world,” her family described her in a statement posted on her social media accounts.

Costantinos Tsobanoglo’s passing, better known by his stage name Costa Titch, passing was another blow to the creative industry.

The celebrated 27-year-old Amapiano rapper and dancer died in March after collapsing at the Ultra Music Festival at the Nasrec Expo Centre during a performance.

Costa Titch was nominated posthumously for his song Big Flexa featuring C’buda M, Alfa Kat, Banaba Des, Sdida and Man T, for Music Video of the Year at the 2023 Sama Awards. The African Muzik Magazine Awards and The Headies Awards, originally Hip Hop World Awards, and the Changamire Zim Hip-Hop Awards have also honoured Titch.

Former Y presenter, Nhlamulo “DJ Mulo” Hlungwani’s death has also left many heartbroken.

The actor and DJ died after a year-long battle with cancer.

Y’s Managing Director, Haseena Cassim, has described DJ Mulo as someone who was passionate about making a change in the media industry.

South Africa in 2023 also lost legendary actor, Patrick Ndlovu, known mostly for his role as the ruthless principal of Yizo Yizo and that of Sizwe Moloi on drama series Zone 14 passed away at the age 0f 85 after four decades of showcasing his on-screen talent.

The soulful and soothing voice of renowned jazz musician and composer, Gloria Bosman, went silent in March.

The 50-year-old Bosman was one of the country’s most celebrated musicians having receiving two South African Music Awards, more than 10 nominations as well as two Kora nominations.

Her debut album Tranquility, released in 1999, got her music career off the ground and earned her the best newcomer award at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs) in 2000.

Bosman was also one of the four recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award for the 2023 at the SAMAs.

The passing of Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Zoleka, after a long battle with cancer also had some South Africans tearing up.

The 43-year-old author had captured the hearts of many South Africans through her bravery, having detailed her long battle against the disease while living her life to the fullest.

She also inspired South Africans by sharing her history of drug addiction and struggles with depression.

One of the most prolific journalists and TV presenter, Derek Watts, died in 22 August 2023 after battling cancer.

The Carte Blanche presenter had been diagnosed with skin cancer in 2022, which also spread to his lungs.

The news industry also lost another celebrated analyst, broadcaster and author when Eusebius McKaiser died after suffering a suspected epileptic seizure in May.

McKaiser was best known for not shying away from voicing his opinion and very open about political and social issues that affected the marginalised.

In one of his last posts on Twitter, now X, McKaiser urged his followers to watch Musa Motha’s recent performance on Britain’s Got Talent.

McKaiser pinned the tweet to his profile, a poignant final act on the platform.


He had been battling stage 4 lung cancer.

Other celebrities who died:

  • Vusi Ma R5 passed away on 30th January after being shot.
  • Marietjie Bothma was a TV personality, radio broadcaster, and comedian and died after long illness.
  • Bonginkosi Ntuli was known as a soccer player and the striker for AmaZulu FC. He died on the 5th of November after succumbing to cancer.
  • Celebrity chef and media personality Lentswe Bhengu-Mafoko died at Sandton Mediclinic after a short illness.
  • South African actor James Alexander, died after a five-year battle with cancer. The 45-year-old actor was known for various roles in films and soapies including “Tracker”, “Binnelanders”, “The Wild”, “Scandal.
  • Actress and comedian Lebohang Lettie Mpyana also died this year after a short illness. The 34-year-old who was best known for playing Khelina on TV series DiepCity.




Written by: Nonhlanhla Harris

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