Johannesburg - Mthokozisi Ndaba has escaped death three times. Three years ago, he begged God to take his life, believing it was his only option.
But on Sunday night, the 25-year-old will be singing for a cash prize of R1 million and the title of Idols SA season 13 winner, against Cape Town teen Paxton Fielies. The two will face each other at Carnival City in Boksburg.
“The year 2014 was the hardest time of my life. I lost my mother and my niece and witnessed a friend of mine being shot. It was too much to handle,” Ndaba says.
“Life was so tough that I tried to commit suicide by hanging myself, but the rope I used was not tight enough. I was disappointed that my plan didn’t work out.”
That same night, the man from KwaMashu bought two Savanna ciders, poured rat poison into them and drank them. He had no reaction to the poison and survived.
He gave up trying to kill himself and came to the realisation that he was born for a purpose. In 2015, he auditioned for Idols SA season 11. He got a golden ticket, but failed to get to theatre week.
“The process was different then, so I only made it to workshops which were not televised. But I learnt a lot and I told myself that next time I audition, I’ll apply everything I learnt from the workshops.”
When he returned for this season of Idols, he was better prepared and got a resounding yes from all the judges. He made it to the next round, theatre week. But fate struck again.
“One evening I was watching the state of the nation address from outside the dining room at home in KwaMashu. I had been rehearsing very hard for theatre week.
“Suddenly, someone hit me with the back of gun on my head. They beat me up and shot me in both knees. The suspects got away with my guitar, cellphone and laptop. I never saw the suspects. All I remembered was waking up in hospital.”
After two nights there, he asked his doctor for an early discharge, fearing his attackers might come to finish him off in hospital. The doctors agreed, but told him his chances of walking again were slim.
“From that day I stood up and walked, even though I was still limping, but I had faith that I was going to walk again.”
During theatre week, Ndaba tried to hide his gunshot wounds from the Idols producers and judges as he feared he might be disqualified, but they soon realised something wasn’t right.
“I didn’t want South Africans to know about my shooting story because I don’t want people to feel pity for me and vote for me because of my background. I just want people to vote for me because of my talent.”
Ndaba has forgiven his attackers.
“God was preparing me for bigger things, everything happens for a reason,” he says.
He earned money singing at weddings and in churches, and credits his sister Londiwe with how far he has come.
“When my mother passed away, Londiwe had to give up on school and replace our mother as a domestic worker. She did this for me,” he says, fighting back tears.
He is writing a book called Pain Pays. “Looking back, I’ve been through so much pain in my life, yet I am here to share my story.
“I’ve never dreamt of being in Idols SA’s top two. This is a dream come true, whether I win or not.”
Paxton Fielies is very nervous.
“I stand a 50% chance of winning – it’s either him or me. No matter what is going to happen tonight, it’s not the end. I’ve opened so many doors for myself,” she says.
The 17-year-old from Bishop Lavis, Cape Town, credits her mother for discovering her singing talent, and always told her she was “hiding behind the camera”.
“It’s my first time performing for millions of people. I only perform at church. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I do on stage. I guess its part of growing as an artist.”
Fielies is this season’s youngest contestant. And as nervous as she is, she says she is prepared for anything.
“I’ve been working hard, pushing votes on social media and also keeping in touch with my fans.”
Fielies, in Grade 11, had to choose between writing her exams or Idols. But she had a talk with her mother, Crystal, who encouraged her to continue with the competition since she has made it this far.
“She supports my dreams and, as long as she is happy with the decisions that I’ve made, then I am happy. I mean this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I can’t get anywhere else. When you get into the top two, you are not allowed to enter again,” she says.
“I am definitely going back to school next year. Either I will do home schooling or school by correspondence.”
Besides her family, she gives credit to her friends who accompanied her when she auditioned for the show.
“They are part of my support system. It’s important to keep your circle very small, because when you come into this industry and you get this amazing platform, everyone wants to be your friend and, most of the time, people will want to be friends with you for all the wrong reasons.”
Fielies says she has learnt the importance of respect during her time on Idols.
“It’s very important to respect everyone, from the person who does your hair and make-up, to security guards and cleaners, because those are the genuine people who will give you love and support.”
If she wins on Sunday, what is she going to do with the R1 million?
“I want to invest it until I know what to do with it. I’ll use money from my gigs to survive. And I’ll give my mum a portion of the money to say thank you. I wouldn’t have done this without her.”
Fielies says her inspiration is rapper Cassper Nyovest because he makes good business decisions and has a good team behind him.
Whether she wins or not, she is planning to do a thanksgiving concert at home.
“Although my hometown is popular for gangsterism, we always stay motivated, strive to do better and stand together as a community.”
She says she’s been told that young people from Bishop Lavis are now looking up to her.
“I aspire to inspire. I am glad that I am able to give them hope again. In me they can see that anything is possible if you work hard. But one thing you should never do is forget where you come from. But you can be bigger than where you come from.”
Catch the Idols SA finale live on Sunday on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) at 17:00.
(Photos: Leon Sadiki)