Caught in the Glare

Brenda Fassie had a deeply ambiguous relationship with the media, sometimes brazenly wooing journalists and at other times beating them up or hurling abuse at them.

"In May 1992, she was fined R2 000 by the Durban Magistrate's Court for beating up Sowetan photographer Mbuzeni Zulu and smashing his camera. Zulu had photographed Brenda while she was brawling with her brother, Themba, and another woman."

- "Our very own material girl", Citizen, October 24, 2000


"Then came the presentation of her SA Music Award, for the year's best selling album, Amadlozi (Ancestors). Accepting the award, she pulled back her coat and flashed her legs, remarking to the cheering crowd: 'Nice, eh?' She left the stage in tears of apparent joy. But on returning to her seat, and to the dismay of others seated at her table, she unleashed a stream of verbal abuse and obscenities at bewildered Sunday Times reporter, Lesley Mofokeng. Hurling a small box at Mofokeng, she threatened to 'kill him and his family'. There was a stunned silence as Fassie screeched that Mofokeng was 'a... homosexual who sleeps with men to get stories'. She said she would find out where Mofokeng lived and wreak vengeance on him.

"Mofokeng had earlier written about Fassie spending nights of passion with a man in a seedy Hillbrow hotel. He had also revealed how she enjoyed a steamy affair with a young gospel star."

- "Rude Brenda spits poison at rivals", Sunday Times, May 8, 2001


"Pop star Brenda Fassie and her entourage swept into Johannesburg's Market Theatre like a whirlwind... Clad in red attire from head-to-head and with her on-off girlfriend Sindiswa and two friends in tow, the controversial singer created a scene when she wanted everyone in her company to be allowed to go into Kippies Jazz Bar - where Afro-diva Suthukazi Arosi was performing - for free. 'We didn't mind Brenda Fassie and at least one partner getting in for free. In fact, Suthukazi had arranged for two tickets to be made available for her. But when she rocked up with two other people, we expected her to pay for them,' said a gatekeeper at Kippies. The two finally paid R100 entry fee but seething Brenda demanded that Kippies management pay back her money. 'If Sipho [Mabuse] was here, all this nonsense would not be happening,' she fumed.

"The Fassie gang was then escorted to their table, where she complained that her table was wrongly positioned. She then promptly pointed at me. With a sneer in her voice she cried: 'I want that table. Move him away, he's a paparazzi!' I stood my ground... Once seated, Fassie had one too many J&B tots... Then came the bill. Fassie began another fuss and stormed out with her lover - leaving the harassed Kippies staff with an unpaid bill... Outside I bumped into Fassie again and she was her conciliatory self. 'Ask your friend to take pictures. You know, the more I appear on newspapers, the more famous I become.'" - Andre Molefe, veteran journalist, recounting his encounter with Brenda Fassie

- "Brenda's antics steal the show", City Press, September 15, 2002


"Journalists have ruined my life with their lies... People I cared about have turned their backs on me. Brenda Fassie will be back with a bang." - Brenda Fassie complaining to M&G journalist, Hazel Friedman

- "Down and out in Brenda's Hillbrow", Mail & Guardian, July 14-20, 1995


"Like a chameleon, the next moment Brenda begged the media to give her full support in her music career. 'My album is not doing very well and I need your full support. Your papers will sell because of me and I will benefit from that too.'"

- "The bad girl is back", The Star, February 26, 1998


"Following reports in various newspapers that Brenda Fassie's soon-to-be-released album features an understudy artist's voice, the controversial pop star not only denied the charges but countered with a challenge. 'I am sick and tired of defending myself. I don't remember Chicco Twala (her manager) assigning anyone else to sing my songs... To put an end to the matter, I will be singing at a concert for the media and business people and I challenge anyone to say I can't sing after that!'"

- "Fassie throws down gauntlet", Sowetan, September 27, 2002


"Fassie courted publicity with as much frenzy as she cursed it. She played up to the media relentlessly while blaming it for the mess that her life so often was."

- "Songbird lived and died by the limelight", Sunday Times, May 16, 2004


"'I like you... I want to come home with you. Peter [Snyman], I am going home with this lady!' Peter was very patient: 'We have lots to do this afternoon.' Brenda was defiant, and glared at me: 'If you don't let me come home with you, I shall destroy your interview and then you'll have nothing to write about...'" - Therese Owen, interviewing Brenda Fassie

- "How Brenda terrified me most - with her tears", Saturday Star, May 15, 2004


"As usual, her mood turned ugly when the media confronted her. Reluctantly, she let me into her crew, but not without emphasizing a time limit... At a recent rally at Orlando Stadium, in the presence of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, [Brenda] declared Winnie [Madikizela-Mandela] the 'real first lady' of South Africa... 'Yes, I said that and I meant it. That woman suffered for 27 years while Tata (Nelson Mandela) was in jail. She was raising his children. She kept the home fires burning and kept the Mandela name alive when she could easily have thrown in the towel and married someone else and changed her surname...'

"'Then what about Graça Machel, the official first lady?'

"This makes her cross. 'I don't know what you are talking about!' She's clearly not comfortable with being asked political questions and decides to adopt a 'no comment' approach to these politically charged questions.

"But then after the interview, the enigma that she is, she hops on to the stage and says to cheers from her fans: 'There's paparazzi from Sowetan and they are asking me, Brenda, why do I perform at the ANC rallies, and I tell them I belong to the ANC.' But then she adds: 'And to the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party), the UDM (United Democratic Front) and the NNP (New National Party)." - Pearl Rantsekeng, Sowetan journalist, interviewing Brenda Fassie

- "Much Fassie ... about politics", Sowetan, May 6, 1999


back to the Brenda Fassie memorial page

"I like to create controversy. I'm going to become the Pope next year. Nothing is impossible."
Brenda Fassie
Brenda Fassie, 1984
Picture: Joe Sefale © Sunday Times


Newspaper sources: An exercise in image-making

In this lesson plan, learners are asked to think about different images that the media communicate. They will see that one person can be represented in many different ways, or that one person has different sides. Brenda Fassie was a very complex person.

Lesson page
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
Archive Photo Gallery
MaBrrr channels Madonna and other great divas.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Watch the Brenda sculpture develop from clay mould to glowing likeness of the queen of African pop.
Orbituary audio archive
Listen to SAfm/Metro FM’s obituary of Brenda, broadcast on May 10, 2004 (5’42").
Go on a 360° virtual tour of the Brenda Fassie memorial, located at Bassline, in the Newtown precinct of Johannesburg.
Madiba remembers Princess Brenda
Madiba describes his surprise when he heard Princess Brenda coming down the stairs in his house
Zola Budd Track
The Sunday Times Heritage Project’s first memorial is to Brenda Fassie, a woman variously described as the Queen of African pop and the Madonna of the Townships
Brenda Fassie and Zola Budd
MaBrrr struts her stuff and takes on taxi drivers with her big hit, “Zola Budd”