Queen of Excess

Brenda Fassie strides into the SABC Radio Park reception area, in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, surrounded by an entourage of seven women.

Although the corridor is teeming with television and radio personalities, everyone stops to stare at her. This is not because she's being noisy or trying to get attention - it's because she is Brenda Fassie, the queen of pop and South Africa's favourite bad girl.

She's here to launch her new album, Mina Nawe, live on Umhlobo Wenene FM, and she's a little late because she has been hanging out with her girlfriends in Yeoville.

The lift arrives to take us down to the studio, but when the doors open, Fassie screams to a startled audience: "Ooh, it's full of white people!" - before running off laughing.

When a second lift arrives, we troop in and join the two white women already inside.

"My naam is Brenda," she introduces herself to one of them. "Ek is 'n songstress. Ek is ryk," she says with a deadpan expression.

That's Brenda for you, the sometimes sweet, sometimes funny exhibitionist who has made the South African music industry interesting for the past 20 years.

She is not a racist, she is just being who she is. When she accepted her Duku Duku award last month for being the most talked-about celebrity, she sang the hit single, Mina ngohlala nginje (I will always be this way), from her new album.

In the studio, Fassie lets out a delighted squeal when she sees a covered tray of snacks, a six-pack of cider and some spirit coolers. She hands out the drinks, opening one bottle with another, kasi (township) style. Handing me a spirit cooler, she warns sternly: "Don't you dare write that Brenda was drinking alone in the studio. Remember, we are all doing it together."

I'm beautiful now because I'm surrounded by love, and I'm thin because I'm happy.

Her pals sprawl out on the floor, eating mini-pies and slugging down the drinks. DJ KC, whose show is hosting the album launch, doesn't seem to mind as long as MaBrrr is happy. When he plays Mina ngohlala nginje to introduce his guest, Fassie suddenly belts out the lyrics to the song. "Hello, mzi wakwa Xhosa (Xhosa people)," she says, and the calls start coming in almost immediately, especially from her hometown, Cape Town.

She starts crying when caller after caller tells her that they love her, and encourage her to chase her dreams and never give up.

"They love me," she says to the room at large in a hoarse and seemingly amazed voice. "I'll always be this way, and as long as God loves me, I'll always be fine. People have said things about me, are saying things about me, and will continue saying things about me. But I will always be like this. Mina ngohlala nginje."

She goes outside to light a cigarette and comes back into the studio with it. She asks me: "Are you having a good time?" Of course, I'm having a ball. Who wouldn't be?

She politely announces to listeners across South Africa that she is going to the toilet because she wants to pee.

In the ladies, she tells me: "I'm beautiful now because I'm surrounded by love, and I'm thin because I'm happy."

Back in the studio, while there's a commercial on air, Fassie confides to me: "I don't have a man and I don't want one at the moment. I care about my girlfriends right now. Bongani [her son] is the man in my life now."

As soon as the break is over, the pop star jumps up, singing along to one of her new tracks.

She disappears, presumably to the ladies again, just as DJ KC is about to finish the show. He starts to panic, screaming for someone to fetch Fassie so she can say goodbye to her fans. He ad-libs, then puts on another of her songs and runs out to look for her himself.

A few seconds later, the radio jock rushes back, with Fassie leisurely following him, a naughty grin on her face.

"I want to say hi to my husband, Nhlanhla, and all the prisoners with him at Sun City [Johannesburg Central Prison]. This is my new record, love. The two of us, sohlala sinje 'we'll stay like this'. You know we never got divorced, you're still my husband," she says, then bursts out laughing.


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”