Mthokozisi Ngcobo had Idols SA fans reaching for their tissues when he auditioned in Cape Town during the first episode of the reality TV show – and it wasn’t only his rendition of Donny Hathaway’s A Song for You that had the audience in tears.
The 20-year-old paired his white beanie, grey T-shirt, jeans and socks with flip-flops, and judge Somizi Mhlongo asked him to explain his “shoe swag”.
Ngcobo said he only owned two pairs of shoes and the other pair was for church.
So, in the Cape Town winter, it was flip-flops only and sometimes no shoes at all.
This week, Ngcobo told City Press that, from the age of 5, he had been raised in Umlazi in Durban, by his unemployed mother and an abusive uncle.
Most of his family members died in quick succession; his mother and her brother were all he had left.
Ngcobo said his uncle used to beat his mother regularly and once tried to rape her. They all lived in his late grandparents’ house and his mother couldn’t afford to leave.
“We knew that, at 18:00 every day, he would come in and swear at my mother; he would even steal the only food we had in the house and leave,” Ngcobo said, adding that his uncle would say it was his right to do this as the “man of the house”.
Once, he said, his uncle dragged his mother out of the house and beat her up in the street.
One incident he will never forget was when he was 8 and his uncle tried to rape his mother.
“I will never forget this. The gate was locked, my mom and I were inside the house and he was busy swearing at us. I think he got frustrated. He went to his outside room and got a huge knife. As soon as my mom opened the door, he placed the knife at my mom’s throat.”
His uncle then ordered his mother not to scream and told her he was going to rape and kill her before he killed her son.
Ngcobo spent the next six years, before his uncle died in 2013, living in fear.
Determined to change his future and his mother’s life, Ngcobo, a pupil at Menzi High School, studied hard and qualified for a bursary for a BCom accounting degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2016.
But, once there, his life fell apart.
“Nothing could have made me ready for the challenges, and different experiences and surroundings.
“I was not ready for what UCT was going to bring,” he said.
As a young man with no money, life was difficult, but he worked hard and passed his first year.
But then he began experiencing flashbacks to traumatic childhood events, but thought he was strong and didn’t need psychological help.
Last year, Ngcobo hit rock bottom.
“I felt like I failed in everything that was going to give me a better future. My life was at a standstill and I was not going anywhere after this. I felt as if I was not enough for my dreams; as if I didn’t deserve my own dreams,” he said.
Ngcobo considered suicide and once wanted to jump through a window from the 10th floor of his residence because he felt like he had failed himself and his mother.
“Each and every day of last year, I woke up thinking death would be better than living,” he said.
Later that year, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety by a faculty psychologist and left university because his marks dropped dramatically.
But now, after making it through his Idols audition, things are looking up.
A tearful Unathi Nkayi told him: “I am glad your voice broke because it came from the deepest place inside you; I am sorry about the pain you have been through, but this competition will be your strength.”
Mhlongo dared DJ Cleo to donate five pairs of size 10 shoes to Ngcobo, and Nkayi said she was going to get him help because she comes from a family of psychologists.
Ngcobo said he felt much better now that he had given Idols a shot.
Back in Durban, he still has not found psychological treatment because he cannot afford it.
“I am working now, but I use the money to help at home because it is bad,” he said, adding that he planned to return to university next year.
M-Net publicist Irvin Pooe said the broadcaster would “definitely” help Ngcobo and said the judges would also come through on their promises.
“People on social media have been contacting us. We have also been receiving and gathering donations for him,” said Pooe.
“Mzansi Magic and the production house will see to it that the donations reach him.”