Brenda Fassie rules Newtown, brazenly and in bronze

She’s crazy, they say. “Ugly”, some even call her. She sits on her barstool, a foot propped on the chair, her arm casually draped over the knee pulled up to her chest. She seems oblivious of her surroundings, a mischievous, knowing smile dripping at the edge of her mouth. The mic waits, as uninterested an observer as those who choose to ignore her.

“People were mostly talking shit about her. They told her that she was ugly,” says Prince Sithembiso Twala (45).

But the jabs always made her sing harder, silencing her critics with her carefree voice. At other times, it’s pained and raspy, drawing on the grey areas, where life truly happens.

Like the building behind her, she has become an institution for South African artists. But, still, she seems lonely. The chair next to her is empty, and there are no benches around for people to sit and watch. Instead, youngsters chat animatedly among themselves.

A few older men in a tuk-tuk cab smoke a joint, lounging in the courtyard like they own it.


Twala, the self-declared Prince of Newtown, is one of them, his dark headband makes his loud blond hair even brighter. “We used to play drums next to her. Maybe somehow she might be lonely, but we always remember her,” he says.

The guys in the tuk-tuk watch a young man in maroon pants and a white shirt cycle in circles around her. Still, she seems unmoved, her gaze confident rather than embarrassed by the attention. She knows she deserves the attention.

The men animatedly speak of how she nonchalantly defied the rules of what was expected of her and womankind. “She used to come in, drinking Black Label. She was not even drinking with the glass like a woman would,” says 37-year-old Sebonela Rangata, who calls himself King Bzorobzarabza.

Twala and Rangata are happy in the courtyard, watching the singer in front of them, but their surroundings encroach. They heckle a passing policeman, and gesture in disgust at what Newtown has become – a place where development has become more important than artistic soul; a place they think is now unrecognisable to the woman who built her career in the city, and who drew global attention to the power with which she sang.

“We respect her. You check the sun, it’s blazing on that statue. You can see the light, you can see the dark. It’s like she changes with the day,” Rangata says. She helped write South Africa’s future with every song that shot to success, on the international stages where she roared, giving many black people a glimpse into the possibilities apartheid never wanted for them. Some walk past her, not knowing her name, but to the great many who remember her, she will always be MaBrrr.

Angus Taylor’s bronze statue of Brenda Fassie was unveiled outside the Bassline in Newtown in 2006.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Poachers in prisons tell their stories

Interviews with offenders provide insight into the structure of illegal wildlife trade networks

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

More top stories

The politics of the Zuma-Zondo showdown

Any move made by the Zondo commission head or by former president Jacob Zuma must be calculated, because one mistake from either side could lead to a political fallout

Museveni declared winner of disputed Uganda election

Security personnel out in force as longtime president wins sixth term and main challenger Bobi Wine alleges rigging.

Pay-TV inquiry probes the Multichoice monopoly

Africa’s largest subscription television operator says it is under threat amid the emerging popularity of global platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime

​No apology or comfort as another Marikana mother dies without...

Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta, whose funeral will be held this weekend, was unequivocal in calling out the government for its response to the Marikana massacre
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…