Brenda and the Big Moods

Flamboyant, emotional and generous to a fault, Brenda Fassie could also be cruel and imperious. Notoriously volatile and deeply sensitive, she wasn't always in control of her complex personality.


"Brenda... showed her generous side by donating R58 000 to bereaved families of the 1992 Boipatong massacre."

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

"Ridiculously generous with family, friends and even friends of friends, she has been broke many times, and was once arrested for nonpayment of debts. Those experiences have coloured Fassie's perception of success. 'I'd rather have happiness than money... People ask for [money] sometimes when I don't have it. I make other people's problems my problem because they want me to; they ask me to. So sometimes I wish I didn't have the little money that I do.'"

- "The Madonna of the Townships", Time, December 17, 2001

"Peto Kulanti, a neighbour of Brenda Fassie as a child, recalled: 'Fassie helped the less fortunate in her community. She would visit poor families and buy them groceries.'"

- "Never too famous to go back to her roots", Sunday Times, May 2, 2004

"Brenda would sleep on an empty stomach while giving her food to others." - Chicco Twala

- "How I battled to keep Brenda safe", The Star, May 11, 2004

"Brenda was a very generous person, who never knew how to say 'no'. She just gave people clothes, money. I would shout at her not to just give for nothing." - Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, sharing her memories of Brenda Fassie

- "My life with Brenda", Sowetan, May 21, 2004

"Brenda never lost touch with her roots. She said it over and over again, in so many different ways: 'Others helped me when I had nothing. Others shared the little they had with me when I had nothing. How can I now not wish to share with others what I have?'" - Z Pallo Jordan, Minister of Arts And Culture, delivering paying tribute to Brenda Fassie at her funeral in Langa, Cape Town

- "Brenda Fassie, South African original", This Day, May 25, 2004

"As the product of a family environment, which had instilled in its offspring the noble and humane values of love and sharing with those less fortunate, singer Brenda Fassie was largely misunderstood by her critics. Some decried her gestures as wayward and irresponsible, as she was extremely generous with her material wealth, dishing out to those who were needy and greedy. They did not understand that it was merely a sign of her infinite love and compassion. There was nothing malicious about her actions."

- "The infinite love of Mbrrr", City Press, May 16, 2004


"The flamboyant Fassie, who held [Mzwakhe] Mbuli's picture high while dancing with supporters, was later seen weeping in the parking lot - she had been refused entry in to the [Leeukop] prison when [Winnie] Madikizela-Mandela and others went in to meet Mbuli and prepare him for release.

"Malcolm X, the Wits University student who was stopped from committing suicide by Madikizela-Mandela... comforted Fassie. He said she felt left out. 'Brenda wanted to get in Mama Winnie's Mercedes-Benz through a window, but there was no space for her as Mzwakhe and his wife were sitting with her [Madikizela-Mandela], and the front seats were occupied by Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards.

"Brenda got upset and started crying. She even threw her phone on the ground and broke it. She did not attend the welcoming party in protest. We tried persuading her but she refused."

-"Brenda throws tantrums as people's poet walks free", Sunday Times, November 30, 2003

"'Are you happy, Brenda?' I posed this question to Ms Fassie a few months before her untimely death. She blinked and her characteristic elfin charm disappeared. It was replaced by despair. 'No, no, I am not happy.' By this time the tears were streaming down her small face and she was sobbing... And here she was, sitting across from me in a coffee shop courtyard in Melville, crying will all the sadness in her soul... 'Why are you so unhappy if you have everything?' I asked. There was a dramatic pause: 'Because I am so alone.'" - Therese Owen, interviewing Brenda Fassie

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

"She was far more interested in shouting orders to her directionally challenged girlfriend, who was having difficulty driving from the SABC, in Auckland Park, to 7th Street, Melville. Eventually she threw down her cellphone in annoyance and turned her full attention to me."

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


"One of my lasting memories of Brenda happened at Bop studios. We were there for interviews and I got there first. Then Brenda arrived, a bit high. I don't know what had angered her, but she just gooi'd (threw at) me a glass of beer. Thanks to Sheila D (Dladla) and Pearl Moatshe, I restrained myself. They asked me not to retaliate. I was soaking wet and livid but I walked away.


"And guess who was in my hotel room the next morning to say sorry. I just looked at her and said: 'If you ever do this again, ngizakubetha (I'll hit you).' She turned around and said: 'You wouldn't dare. Everyone thinks you are a lady.' We hugged and it was all over." - Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, sharing her memories of Brenda Fassie

- "My life with Brenda", Sowetan, May 21, 2004

"In an interview with Sunday Times, Gloria Chaka, Brenda Fassie's live-in lover, recalled Brenda's volatile personality: 'After smoking, she always wanted to hit me for nothing. If I went into the kitchen, she would accuse me of wanting a boyfriend or another girlfriend and said I should come back sit with her.'"

- "Brenda's vow in church to give up drugs", Sunday Times, May 16, 2004

"[Brenda Fassie] also confesses her jealousy when men make moves on Nkambule. 'I punch them; they want to get her through me and I didn't find her for them.'"

- "No regrets about being gay - Fassie", Saturday Star, May 1, 2003


"A tearful Fassie pleaded for her help saying she had turned to drugs after 'people turned their backs against me'. She said she felt 'lonely, deserted and empty'."

- "Fan offers to help 'SA queen of pop'", Sowetan, July 11, 1996

"She never had a childhood. She should have been protected from herself first and those around her. There were just too many hangers-on in her life. She needed strong people who could discipline her. She was vulnerable and needed guidance and protection." - Sello "Chicco" Twala, Brenda's producer, speaking about her rise to fame

- "How I battled to keep Brenda safe", The Star, May 11, 2004

Addictive personality

"[Brenda] Fassie admitted ... she had become addicted to cocaine at the peak of her career."

- "Addict Fassie goes for rehabilitation", Citizen, July 19, 1995

"She was introduced to drugs in the 1990s and what started as an occasional indulgence in cocaine soon turned into an addiction."

- "Diva with a messy, hectic life", Sowetan Sunday World, November 10, 2002

"Gloria Chaka, Brenda Fassie's live-in lover, claimed [Brenda] had been addicted to crack for 20 years, often spending R3 000 a day on the drug and smoked it on a daily basis when they lived together.

"Chaka said crack ruined Brenda Fassie's life and that she would have been alive today if it weren't for it. Chaka said Fassie had become 'very thin' as a result of crack abuse. 'The first time I met her she was a size 32. But recently, she had gone right down to a size 26. She would say: "Gloria, look at me. I'm already dead. This is not the real Brenda. It's because of drugs that I look like this."'"

- "Brenda's vow in church to give up drugs", Sunday Times, May 16, 2004


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
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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”