The South African flag flew high and the crowd was euphoric as the Ndlovu Youth Choir arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on Friday afternoon.
The members of the crew who remained at home while the others represented them on the world’s biggest talent stage, America’s Got Talent, arrived clad in their famous colourful outfits and sang for the crowd that grew by the minute. Passersby joined them in anticipation.
The choir was returning from their six-week trip to Atlanta, USA.
Songs like “shosholoza” were sung with pride by the group of supporters, who came to the airport two hours early to welcome the crew.
Sandile Majola, one of the group members said: “I feel relieved and excited to be back home. The journey has been tough. We didn’t give up. We had amazing acts there and we gave it our all. We had a chance of making it.
“I see the youth is inspired. I hope they are learning from what we did. Everyone should not stop dreaming. The last performance was a celebration and not a competition. Kodi Lee did well, we are proud of him. His victory is our victory.”
Choirmaster Ralf Schmitt, who was dishing out hugs with a huge smile on his face, said he felt “amazing”.
“I can’t breathe,” he said. “I envisage a beautiful and exciting future for them. But there’s also a leadership responsibility. It must be sustainable and result in employment. They have so much potential. They have an exciting future.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though.
“They didn’t like American food at all, we had to make them pap,” he said.
Hugo Templeman, the choir’s founder, said the biggest job from here was to keep the choir together and “on the ground and humble”.
“They make everyone proud. They will rest and reunite with their families. We will work hard to reinforce their values,” he said.
Sibongile Shongwe, whose son Mthokozisi Maphanga is a member of the choir, said she missed her child.
“They have represented us so well. The last performance was my favourite. The colours and energy… I feel like a celebrity mom. I’m the happiest mom on the planet. He’s so helpful, jolly, and takes care of everything at home; we missed him, we rely on him. But I’m so proud,” she said.
Shongwe said Maphanga’s siblings could not wait to see him.
“He makes me hopeful. Eventually, our lives will change. He gives us hope. Tomorrow looks good. They never cared about the environment that did everything to oppress them, they are such giants,” she said, singing.
Elizabeth Makua, 47, a gutsy gogo who was at the airport to welcome the choir, said Ndlovu was a major part of her life. She and other women worked hard to make their colourful beaded outfits.
“They make us so proud. We came all the way from Dennilton to welcome them,” Makua said.
Avi Rom, 9, and his sister, Shani, 11, came from Fairmount to welcome the choir.
“I’m feeling happy. All their performances were my favourite, but especially the last one. They make us proud,” Avi said.
During their performances on America’s Got Talent – which is arguably the biggest talent show in the world – Ndlovu got praise from the judges.
Simon Cowell, the show’s notoriously hard-to-please judge, said of their final performance: “I pray that this show changes people’s lives – and this performance may have just done that.”
Their first performance, a rendition of the African Dream, launched their success.
However, the choir did not make the top five. Vocalist Kodi Lee won the final.