Young Fassie Immortalised in Bronze

By Gillian Anstey

The bronze sculpture of the late singer Brenda Fassie, unveiled this week, sets a new trend for South African heritage.

Instead of the usual hero from the distant, official past, Fassie - whose life was a chequered, fabulous tapestry - represents a flawed icon of current popular culture. Fassie died at age 39 on May 9, 2004.

Angus Taylor, the Pretoria-based artist commissioned by the Sunday Times to create the sculpture as part of the newspaper's Heritage Project, launched this week, said Fassie was a "magnet to the camera".

Like Madonna's, Fassie's stardom was partly rooted in her ability to constantly change her image without compromising her identity. In 2001 Time magazine dubbed her "The Madonna of the Townships" and first gave her the label that Fassie herself enjoyed playing with, "the bad girl of South African pop".

"I am a shocker. I like to create controversy. It's my trademark," Fassie once told an interviewer. The remark was typical. "I am the one and only Brenda. I am the star, I am the moon," are some of the star's other famous sayings, which Taylor has printed on the sculpture of Fassie.

I am the one and only Brenda. I am the star, I am the moon.

The life-size bronze, placed permanently outside the Bassline music venue in Newtown, Johannesburg, was unveiled by Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya at the launch of the Centenary Heritage Project on Thursday evening. He was joined by Councillor Amos Masondo, representing the City of Johannesburg with whom the paper partnered on this leg of the project.

The Fassie sculpture, one of nine to be erected in Johannesburg, does more than provide a likeness of a youthful version of South Africa's top-selling local artist; it allows the public to engage with it - by literally climbing onto it.

Inspired by José Villa Soberón's sculpture of John Lennon on a park bench in Havana, Cuba, Taylor's sculpture shows Fassie casually sitting on a stool on a stage, before a microphone. An empty stool is next to her, inviting the viewer to come closer and take a seat.

Wits University's head of heritage and management studies Brett Pyper said the sculpture marked a departure from the kind of heritage that comes with the whiff of officialdom. "Brenda's iconoclastic persona is going to shake up the tone. She stands for a far more contemporary, youthful take on what counts as heritage," he said.

I like the fact that she's barefoot. It shows she was relaxed on a stage in front of people. She stayed a girl from Langa; she kept her feet on the ground.

The image is of a young Fassie, when she had what Taylor, quoting author Margaret Atwood, called "plumpness of cells". It is based on a particular photograph of Fassie, wearing braids with beads. Taylor said he had been told that no matter the likeness, the sculptural image would become the public perception of the person. "I like the fact that she's barefoot," he said. "It shows she was relaxed on a stage in front of people. She stayed a girl from Langa; she kept her feet on the ground."

Fassie's relatives and son Bongani Fassie were visibly moved when the statue was unveiled. "The artist has done an outstanding job. He couldn't have done a better job of capturing the way she really was," said Bongani. "We feel honoured that the Sunday Times has paid such tribute to my mother. She would have loved it."

Speaking about the heritage project, Makhanya said the people selected each tell a story about South Africa. "Some are villains, some are heroes. Some of the stories they tell are tragic, others celebratory. But each site tells a story that will hopefully spark an interest in heritage in the history of our country," he said. Masondo also paid tribute to Fassie: "She lives in the hearts of the millions of people." -

With additional reporting by Celean Jacobson


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”