THE words Eternal Crush stand out clearly on her white T-shirt. They have special meaning to her – it’s not just the name of her late husband’s debut album, it’s also the nickname she had for him.
Not a day goes by that Simphiwe Ngema doesn’t think of Dumi Masilela, the man she loved with all her heart. He’s been gone for 17 months after being killed in a botched hijacking, but she’s only now starting to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.
The actress recently joined the cast of Isidingo and a few weeks ago released Eternal Crush, Dumi’s 10-track album. She’s starting to get out more now her heart is healing, Simphiwe (28) says. “I’m still not afraid to cry or scream when I need to, but I’m so much better now. I’ve come a long way.”
She was so gutted by Dumi’s death she couldn’t bear to face people, and when she did brave the public she would collapse in a pool of tears. Simphiwe had been married to Dumi for three months when he was gunned down in Tembisa in August 2017. She’s starting to accept their love story was cut short with just one bullet “but every day is different”.
She still wears the wedding ring she vowed to take off. “I felt empty and put it back after two hours. It felt like my soul had been taken away.”
She cried herself to sleep the night before our interview, she says. “Evenings aren’t the same without him because he’s not around to cuddle me. So I stay up, play on my phone, do some work or read my scripts until I fall asleep.”
The scripts are, of course, for Isidingo.
The talented actress plays scheming geologist Phindile Shezi. Phindile, whose uncle died while working at Sibeko Gold, comes to the mine to exact revenge. The role couldn’t have come at a better time, Simphiwe says. “Before going back to work I was in a space where I was ready to die.”
SOME days she’d stay in bed all day with the curtains drawn. “Taking a bath was an achievement,” Simphiwe says. “So being back at work helped to heal me.” She loves playing no- nonsense Phindile. “She’s a force to be reckoned with. I admire her so much because her role keeps me sane and strengthens me.
“She’s a lot like me – strong and we stand up for what we believe in. We’re not pushovers.”
It’s not only acting that saved her from her downward spiral into depression. She credits Dumi’s mother, Sabatha Masilela, for helping her to get her life back on track. Sabatha stayed with the couple in their Kempton Park home. “After Dumi’s father died from cancer in 2016, his mom became depressed and had to be admitted to hospital,” Simphiwe explains. “She’d been in and out of hospital for almost a year and we were taking care of her.”
Her voice falters as she continues. “The day he died his mom had been discharged. Dumi picked her up from hospital, dropped her at home, then went to Tembisa where he died.
“When his mom found out he had been shot, she was re-admitted.”
They were both devastated. “There is no solution, no manual, of how to deal with the loss of a loved one.” The heartbroken women turned to each other for comfort. “The pain brought us closer,” Simphiwe says. “We slept in the same bed. I’d go to photo- shoots and she’d be there. Sabatha wanted to make sure I was okay, and I did the same with her. We built a strong bond.”
But reality soon encroached, forcing Simphiwe out of mourning. “Three months after Dumi died I got a call from MTN telling me my phone was in arrears. That’s when it clicked he wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t here to zip my dress or pay for the cars, phones or anything.
“Life wasn’t going to wait for me to finish grieving. I needed to get up and go back to work or my valuables would be repossessed.”
HER first few auditions were awkward – she had to dig deep to ignore the looks of pity she was met with but pushed through until she bagged a role on e.tv’s Broken Vows. On set Simphiwe started finding herself. “It reminded me of my passion before I became Dumi’s wife. I’d forgotten who I was. I forgot how to love and even how to eat. I’d lost a lot of weight.”
She’d tried counselling but preferred throwing herself into work.
It didn’t always work though. When she got a role on Uselwa, a drama series cut short when the actors weren’t paid, it was as if she was operating on autopilot.
“I didn’t even realise we were going through a tough time on set because I was still dealing with my internal struggles,” she says. “I spent a lot of time alone in my room crying. If I shot two scenes a day I’d be alone in my room for the rest of the day, reading books and listening to Dumi’s music. It was a great escape.” Things picked up when she played Buhle in The Queen. It was a short stint but portraying a slay queen and abuse survivor reminded her of her inner strength. “Dumi’s death gave me a thick skin – you’d have to physically cut me for me to feel anything.”
But the one thing she does feel strongly about is being labelled a widow. “The word made me feel as if I’m damaged goods, broken.”
Before his death they planned to have a baby so Simphiwe took a break from her career. “Dumi took over as head of the home and paid for my car, phone bills and everything.”
They had it all planned out. She would stop working while Dumi would launch his music career. “We wanted a girl and a boy.” These dreams died with Dumi, sending Simphiwe into a state of depression. “When he passed on I was in this miserable state. I didn’t want to live anymore. I lost my purpose in life.”
But with a new year comes new opportunities and Simphiwe wants to reinvent herself. “I want to focus on rebranding myself and mastering my craft as an actress,” she says.
She also has another of Dumi’s dreams to fulfil. She won’t be drawn on what it is, but once she finishes the passion project she plans to focus on herself. “I fear falling in love again because I’m scared of losing the person I love,” Simphiwe says. “But honestly, I just want a baby. I’ve always wanted a family of my own.”