Adriaan Roets
3 minute read
15 Oct 2015
8:00 am

Mthetho Maphoyi: from gang violence to opera star

Adriaan Roets

It’s been two years since Mthetho Maphoyi’s incredible life-journey was featured as a news segment on BBC.

Mthetho Maphoyi is one of South Africa’s emerging opera talents, thanks to him teaching himself with a CD.

The reason for his story’s inclusion by the broadcasting giant becomes apparent as soon as you see his face. With a scar that runs from his left eye down his cheek, this young man has clearly been a victim of South African society, where crime and punishment thrives.

Then Maphoyi opens his mouth and sings opera. His voice is boisterous and demands you to take him seriously, but it is also soft, gentle and on the edge of being transcending. Maphoyi is a self-taught opera singer from Hermanus who learned the nuances of Italian opera thanks to a Luciano Pavarotti CD his dad left behind when he deserted him and his mother.

Now, at 27, he is on the cusp of being a break-out star, thanks to his undeniable talent and above all, his nerve to succeed. He is lucky that music has always featured in his life. “My mom was a singer too. She sang to me growing up, and I used to sing at school as well as in church,” Maphoyi remembers.

With his inherited Pavarotti CD on a loop at home, he practiced opera and perfected Italian pronunciation. Unfortunately his mother died from Aids and Maphoyi’s life unraveled a bit after that. He was swooped up in a life of petty crimes, and a turf war led to the scar on his face. He was also forced to drop out of school. As tough as times were, through it all he gave singing lessons to help support his friends and family.

It wasn’t long until Hermanus was rife with rumours about an opera singer and teacher that could rival the world’s greatest. He grabbed the attention of pianist Derek Blaise and it wasn’t long before he signed a 12-month contract with Cape Town Opera. “I performed in three shows during that year. I also made time on weekends to continue to practice. Most recently I was in the Gauteng Opera production of Così Fan Tutte,” Maphoyi says.

His time with mentors and collaborators was important, because it gave him a platform to sharpen his talent to start the transformation into a professional opera singer. Currently he is involved with various programmes, and he also works with a myriad of students. The young opera sensation does however have one goal.

Next year he aims to enrol to finish his matric education, and hopes he will be able to then enrol in a music programme at the University of Cape Town. Maphoyi’s story has been profiled by the international media including The Huffington Post and the BBC.

He has also been the star of a documentary called The Creators which was showcased in New York. The documentary follows him busking from his township home in Hermanus to where he is today. While Maphoyi has been gushed over in operatic circles for a while, he’s secured a spot to perform at the inaugural Winelands Music Festival at the Zevenwacht Wine Estate outside Cape Town.

Maphoyi joins a festival line-up that includes popular South African artists such as Beatenberg, Tasha, Natasha Meister, Paige Mac as well as popular musical act Top Dog. Except for performing at a friend’s wedding and an event here and there, he is mostly used to performing in theatres, which can often be considered stuffy. Maphoyi is looking forward to the more informal atmosphere.

“It’s my first time performing on this sort of stage. It’s also a big opportunity, it’s a very big show and venue if you think about the fact that Beatenberg is also there.” Not that size matters when you have such a big voice.


  • Maphoyi loves local opera stars like Pretty Yende.
  • He listens to most music genres.
  • The Winelands Music Festival takes place on November 1.
  • Tickets range from R185 to R220.