“The Singing Dustman” passes on

Sizwe Sibiya

LOVED AND LOST: James Bhemgee (1964/5 – 2022)

Not many who were born in 1960s Kalksteenfontein, Cape Town, were destined to be well-travelled opera singers – but James Bhemgee was.

But first he had to find his way on the streets, even if it meant sweeping them, which was his day job before his talent was discovered.

From there, he went a long way in his remarkable, if somewhat complicated, life. At the height of his career, he was the second winner of South Africa’s Got Talent (SAGT).

Bhemgee was not ashamed of his background, as he told the story many times in his life during media interviews.

Once whilst sweeping, Bhemgee was heard singing by a woman passing him on the street. She was stunned by his strong yet calming tenor and employed him as her personal music teacher. He said she also encouraged him to pursue the career he was destined for.

That led him to audition for SAGT. Getting professional criticism in the competition from judges like Randall Abrahams, Shado Twala and Ian Von Memerty fuelled his energy through stages until he reached the final round.

Standing next to SAGT hosts Anele Mdoda and Rob van Vuuren at the time, Bhemgee was announced as the winner of the finals, taking home R250,000 in cash and exposure to the whole world.

After triumphing on what the media dubbed “the biggest stage” in the country, Bhemgee went on to sing alongside other international TV talent show winners from different parts of the world. These included the likes of Paul Potts from Britain’s Got Talent and Amira Willighagen from Holland’s Got Talent when they went on a world tour in 2014.

From the famous tenor aria “Nessun Dorma” to Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, Bhemgee sang his heart out.

Then in 2020, Mzansi woke up to worrying news regarding the popular opera singer.

The Daily Voice had reported that he had been arrested for allegedly raping a minor in Mitchells Plain.

The case was reportedly thrown out of court, with Bhemgee and a cousin of the alleged victim released with a warning. Bhemgee always denied the allegations.

He continued with his career until May 2022, when he performed at a drug awareness event in Cape Town.

At the age of 57, Bhemgee passed away on the morning of 22 June, after a short illness.

“It is with great sadness that we share the news of the loss of a good friend and colleague, Mr  James Bhemgee,” confirmed his producers at Marmalade Productions as the condolences continue to pour in.

Bhemgee offered viewers the advice he had always followed during an interview with SABC’s Expresso Show in 2014. “Never give up,” he said, “and always try your best and give your best.”