Celebrating Brenda Fassie
It has been eight years today since the fateful day that Brenda Fassie suffered cardiac arrest allegedly from cocaine laced with rat poison. Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela and Thabo Mbeki visited her whilst she was in hospital.
Despite her dramatic death she is still celebrated as one of South African’s greats and globally remembered as “The Madonna of the Townships” after the three page feature article in the Dec 2001 Times magazine.
Although famous for her outrageousness and publicity around her evidently turbulent personal life including divorce, drugs and fraud, as well as the death of her lesbian lover from an overdose, she continued to perform with power and passion, becoming the biggest-selling artist South Africa has produced.
She was born in Langa, Cape Town. Tragically, her father died when she was two, and with the help of her mother, a pianist, she started earning money by singing for tourists with a singing group that she formed known as the Tiny Tots.
At 16, Fassie, or Madrr as known by fans, left Cape Town for Soweto, Johannesburg, to become a singer for the township pop group Brenda And The Big Dudes. She had a son, Bongani, in 1985 with one of the Big Dudes and in 1989 she married ex-convict Nhlanhla Mbambo. They divorced two years later after they were both sued for fraud. During this time she became addicted to drugs. Her drug habits hampered her music career until she went to a drug rehabilitation centre in 1995.
She became popular for her outspoken views and songs about a hard core world of which she was very much a part. In 1998 the album Memeza became the best-selling South African release of the year and a year later she received the Kora award for the best female artist. Her next album, Nomakanjani, reached triple platinum status within a few months of its release.
Her funeral was held on 23 May in her hometown, Langa. She left behind her 19-year-old son, now 24, who has moved on to become a successful Hiphop artist.
At the time of her death, The Cape Times, in "Forever young", summarised SA fan’s sentiments: "Brenda Fassie was many things: immensely talented, tempestuous and outrageous being among them. But she was never boring. Indeed, she has been called a pioneer, a trendsetter and an icon whose passing will leave a huge vacuum in the music industry. "Farewell, Brenda. You will stay forever young in the hearts of your millions of fans around the world." Eight years on, she most certainly is still in many hearts around the world.