Khabi Mngoma was born in Troyeville, north east of Johannesburg on 18 November 1922. He grew up in a musically fertile environment and came from musically gifted parents. His mother, Agnes Matutu Nyembe, was a school teacher and his father, David Zwelonke Mngoma, a virtuoso concertina-playing maskandi musician.
By the time Mngoma got to his last work post as Head of Music at the University of Zululand, he had worked in the cultural sphere as an artist, a teacher, publisher, organiser of cultural activities, choir conductor, singing coach, historian, and an administrator.
Mngoma personifies a generation that included some exceptional people – Es’kia Mphahlele, Henry Nxumalo, MacKay Davashe, JP Mohapeloa, Mzilikazi James Khumalo, Michael Moerane, Mazisi Kunene – a very distinct group that had a strong sense of identity; even as they grappled with the challenges of a situation that sought to denigrate and dehumanise them.
Mnogma founded and ran numerous music programmes, through his teachings and through music performances and concerts; he always strived to expand his pupils’ vocabulary and the audiences’ experience.
He always incorporated what he believed was an acknowledgement of the dual worlds in which the ’present-day African’ lived and firmly believed that the teaching of music needed to reflect this reality for all students of music.
His approach was to promote and understand the importance of a need for balance between the intellectual and the spiritual – it was not enough to understand music solely for academic study. It was his experience that those learners who were high achievers in the music programme he ran, also excelled in Mathematics and English, Biology and Geography and other academic school subjects. He also found that many of these learners developed a keen sense of responsibility and citizenship, compassion and empathy, respect for self and others, and generally were an asset to their communities in myriad ways.
Prof. Mngoma, who died in 1999 at the age of 77, founded the Music Department at the University of Zululand in 1975; started the Ford Choirs in Contest in 1977 which is now known as the Old Mutual National Choir Festival, established the Ionian Music Society in 1960, the Ionian Youth Orchestra in 1969, and the Khongisa Youth Centre for the Performing Arts in 1976. He was a valued member of the Roodepoort Eisteddfod panel, as well as an active member of the SAMRO Music Committee while having a long association with the University of South Africa during which he made considerable contributions to the teaching of music in schools as well as the training of choral directors.