A Tribute to my brother  Nkuli, “Nkush” Nkululeko Mpumelelo Mthembu.

Nkululeko Mthembu
Nkululeko Mthembu

23 May 1986-10 November 2013

I stopped breathing the day I heard. That Nkulukelo Mthembu was no longer with us.  It was simply not possible.  Nkuli has passed away? Why are people so cruel to tell such lies? To hell with Social media. As the truth sunk in I could help but think of those closest to him.  No! No! No! Oh my God Siya! Mbali! My heart started doing things I had never felt before, somersaults, thuds, shrieks – it was something between a panic and a heart-attack. I was alone in my flat and for the first time I couldn’t escape this one. I could not numb or avoid my feelings, the pain that took hold of me crept into my body like a cold winter’s breeze and clung to my bones – I immediately felt sick, dizzy.  This time without choosing to I had to face the reality of death –stone cold sober. I had to feel the pain of losing someone, grasp the idea of never seeing them again without losing my mind, it was overwhelming.  It was as if my heart would beat right out of my chest and fall flat on the floor like jelly.

On the 10th of November – the Sunday that Nkuli breathed for the last time, I was in tears. All day and I didn’t quite know why? Where this sorrow was coming from, what sadness is this? That Sunday as I walked up the wide streets of linden to see my brother peace, even the wind was silent.  It was so quiet, I told my brother that something was strange.

You see, I don’t know if you have a brother – but Nkuli is one of my brothers. We met over ten years ago. He waited for Mbali and me, outside the SABC Head Quarters with his older brother Siya in their  brown Beatle. I didn’t know it then, but the moment I got into that Beatle, I was home.

I always admired Nkuli for having such a big heart – a heart made of Gold – jokes aside. Even before he shot to fame he was a true comedian, joker and a source of untold humour whenever we were together. With Nkuli, there was never a dull moment. Without trying he would speak his mind, and we’d all be on the floor laughing for days at his unique wit. With him around we could forget about whatever was troubling us, and just be in the moment.  Whether we had money or not, a way or no way of going there he was always a source of strength.

Nkuli personified his name; Nkululeko – a name which means – Freedom. He was a free spirit, a free-thinker who literally danced to his own drum. But his endearing quality was his soft-heart. A kind and gentle soul, who cared deeply for his loved ones.  He always used to comfort me and say don’t worry J, don’t mind him” each time Siya would start making fun of me, something I really didn’t like, because when Siya laughs at you it is seriously not funny at all.  At first I didn’t understand why Siya would be on my case like that, I would cry sometimes. But I know now.  Being the youngest we all made a show of “taking care” of Nkuli, but in truth he was the one taking care –of us. He was the one fighting for our spiritual freedom. The one who constantly challenged, confronted, and broke the chains of “normal” and “acceptable’. He was the one who made life seem easy, fun, and full of adventure and possibility.

Our long-standing  joke with him back in the days when we were younger was his inability to pronounce the th- sound, always saying I fought instead of thought or fink instead of think. And boy did he fink…


An artists and musician, he founded the Johannesburg Art music collective, The Brother Moves On,  after he abandoned his studies at AFDA,  with his older  brother Siya Mthembu, cousin Zweli Mthembu, and Raytheon Moorvan. With his childhood friend BJ Engelbrecht, he formed an online production company called “No budget Productions” which is the official home for the Brother Moves On videos. In May this year he curated his first commercial exhibition entitled, “The brother breaks the Bullion” which was picked up by Business Day. His work was featured in the Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, TeleRama France, RFI andThe Mail&Guardian to name a few. He spent much of 2013, travelling and performing in across  the SADC region. Apart from being an artist he was a manager for his mother’s business in Tembisa.


I thought for sure my heart would stop, when the next morning after his funeral Siya asked me to help him carry the funeral paraphernalia back to the house.  You see I didn’t make it to his funeral on Friday the 15th of November. I arrived long after his body  had been laid to rest, when the white dresses and shirts  were stained red with wine, whiskey and every other spirit, when feet were sore, and those who could still walk were dreaming of bed,  and sleepwalking  home. When all that could be drank was drunk. “Jedi, Nkush loves you” said Zweli to me with a smile so wide I was sure it was Nkuli saying it. I still wasn’t breathing because you see, a part of me was still waiting for him,  I could see him in my mind’s eye, any minute now Nkuli was going to come waltzing in through those gates, with one  hand in one pocket, saggy jeans, wearing his white-shirt, and waistcoat, head down, with his fast –hip-hop gait as if always on the look out for something.  Damn.  Siya opened the boot, stood back and said please help me with that….

It hit me the minute I held those gold curtains close to my chest, the irony of it all.  From the name of the band, The brother Moves On, pinned on the idea that  each member of the band were an impermanent part of the process of creating – where  it is the individual prerogative of each ‘brother’ to move on if he feels so inclined. To the Recording of the band’s first album The Golden Wake (EP) at the SABC’s radio park basement studios in 2011.  The concept for the EP launch was based on a performance piece staging of a funeral of the character of Mr. Gold (Played by Siyabonga Mthembu). The story of Mr. Gold begins with a dream of his grandfather who tells Mr. Gold to journey to the city of Gold to “Mine his dreams”

I didn’t “see” Nkush that night (who was the bands costume designer, performance artist, and visuals person).  But I heard sounds I had never heard before.  Like deep calling unto deep; I hummed and sang along with them from under my breath with a depth I didn’t know I possessed.  The Band reached into to my soul, with their eclectic fusion of sounds etched in the crevice of traditional, shamanic sounds that resurrect and resuscitate the ancestral spirit of the artist, long-gone and yet-to-be-born, while also maintaining a modern 21st century sound. In isiZulu the music can be summed up in one word: Ubungoma.  That night I cried as if I was at a real funeral.

The last time I saw Nkuli was a perfectly beautiful summer’s day, on one of those rare occasions when the Brother Moves On was not performing.  He said to me, “today feels like old times j” as we walked aimlessly down Fox street on Johannesburg’s Maboneng district.” It reminds me of that time we went to  Cape-Town together, you Mbali, Siya and me”.   In hindsight, I think it may have been his way of saying – I miss you.

In pursuit of progress, security, happiness, meaning or something along those lines; I had forgotten that it was not about fame, status, or about people liking you, or about money, about clothes, about social status.  It’s about love. Love means being true to yourself,  discovering, living and fulfilling your life’ purpose to the very best of your ability. At 27 Nkululeko had accomplished what many artists today  can only fantasize about,  the passionate pursuit of purpose  and  fulfillment with no budget.  Thank you for being a light in our darkness and answering the call to be the person only you could be. Nkululeko Mpumelelo Mthembu.

Burnslow Nkuli…

I’m sorry. I just won’t say goodbye.

The Brother Moves On band members, left to right, Siya Mthembu, Ray and Nkululeko Mthembu. Enjoying time off at  the Living Room - Downtown Johannesburg. Picture by Greg Marinovich
The Brother Moves On band members, left to right, Siya Mthembu, Ray and Nkululeko Mthembu. Enjoying time off at the Living Room – Downtown Johannesburg. Picture by Greg Marinovich

2 thoughts on “AND THE BROTHER MOVED ON…”

  1. O.M.G…I’ve buried for so long…in my own bubble. First Robo then Nkuli…things are moving at an alarming pace. The feeling of someone good and who always made a place come alive leaving this realm is a hard one.

    I don’t deal well with death…especially with people that I think are dear. Nkuli will be remembered…
    Not feeling good right now….
    (Thanks for letting me know)


  2. My Best Friend in primary school, I met him in grade 2 him and Gift, Nikulu is what I use to call him, he would correct me all the time, “Nkulu” short for Nkululeko which means freedom” but it was as if he were talking to a blind n def boy cos soon after that correction session, we’d b making jokes n laughing so hard n I’d b like “ahhh Nikulu ” he was definitely one of the “coolest kids” of my time. I was actually not surprised when he told me after high school that he had become a musician and was in a band with his bro “my bro” Siya, man Siya had a voice ooohhhh Siya had a voice y’all!! Anyway Nkululeko was into music since we were like 8 in fact he inspired many of us into liking this rap thing he would make us “badle eachother” so everyday I’d get home and write new lyrics for tomorrow’s ”badle” he had What I thought was the coolest voice and
    Flow in our crew. On the Weekends that I didn’t have soccer games he’d sleep over at my place or I’d be sleeping over at his place we’d practice our Lyrics, be swimming, playing video games, watch Siya and Themba wrestling eachother, mes around with the goldfish in the fish bowl, Right Vally movies all day, loud RnB n hip hop music, Siya’s rendition of different 90s RnB songs!! Man I miss those days I miss my bros but I really miss this guy “Nikulu” n its really messed up that I’ll never see him again. Just so funny that For some reason today I was thinking about him and instead of going to Facebook I googled him n came across this letter. Although we went to different high schools we always kept in touch (land line) cos back then cell phones Wer for adults n so distance as I was then studying in Pretoria I’d come back over the weekend to hear that Nkululeko was here looking for you go to his place find his not home man the distance and communication was sabotaging our friendship. To be honest I really can’t remember the last time I saw him. But man he was an amamazing bro, what great and amazing memories that he has engraved in my mind! RIP Nikulu Forever in my hear my bro!


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