Peki Emelia “Nothembi” Mkhwebane (1953 - )
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Peki Emelia “Nothembi” Mkhwebane
Peki Emelia “Nothembi” Mkhwebane was born in Carolina in Mpumalanga on 1 January 1953. Orphaned at the age of five, she was raised by her grandparents who could not afford formal education for her. Most of her early life was therefore spent looking after her grandfather’s cattle and sheep – their limited means of livelihood at that time. It was no mean task for a girl.
Mkhwebane’s family loved music and nurtured her first love for Ndebele songs. Her grandmother taught her to play a reed flute, while her sister exposed her to isikumero. Her uncle taught her to play a home-made guitar. In this hub of Ndebele music and culture, Mkhwebane learned a lot about the richness of her culture and later started a musical group called “Izelamani zako Nomazilyana”, which performed at cultural gatherings and weddings.
With time, she bought a keyboard and guitar to compose songs, which she recorded. Despite her burgeoning achievements, she still struggled to find a recording company, particularly as one of the major snags was her illiteracy, which proved to be a hindrance in securing proceeds from the recording breakthroughs.
Never one to despair, and propelled by her passion and talent, Mkhwebane subsequently defeated most of these obstacles to become a world-renowned, prolific singer and performer of Ndebele music. She has travelled extensively abroad, performing in countries such as the United States of America (USA), Austria, Germany, Portugal, Australia and France. In 1988, she performed in New York and London and received an award for the Best Ndebele Song.
Known as the “Queen of Ndebele Music”, between 1984 and 2001 she released eight Ndebele music albums. Her singing, dancing and dressing embraced a multifaceted picture of the culture of the Ndebele.
She elevated Ndebele culture on the global world platform, in an age where many people considered it irrelevant to the world stage. Realising the prohibitive effect of illiteracy on her career, Mkhwebane decided to go back to school, with the ultimate aim of pursuing a degree in music.
Mkhwebane has been presented with many awards. These include the Woza Africa Foundation Award (USA) in 1988; Femina/NNTV Woman of the 90s in 1995; Tourism Ambassador for South Africa in 1998; and the Mpumalanga Sports, Recreational Arts and Culture Award in 1999.
She also received the South African Music Award: Honorary Award: Best Ndebele Music Ikwekwezi FM in 1999, as well as Bow and Arrow (for Best Tourist Ambassador for the Month) in 2001. This Order of Ikhamanga in Silver recognises this sensational inspiration to many unsung heroines of our culture.