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Fans claim 'Madonna of the Townships'

May 11, 2004

The coffin of pop diva Brenda Fassie is carried to the hearse at her funeral service in Langa, May 2004
Photo - AFP
CAPE TOWN — Hordes of fans moved attention away from pop diva Brenda Fassie's mourning family when they burst through barricades at her funeral service in Langa stadium on Saturday ahead of an address by President Thabo Mbeki.

Police said nine people were injured during the melee when the crowd surged into the VIP area where Fassie's body lay in a gold-coloured coffin. Three had to be taken to hospital and the remaining six were treated at the scene.

Order was restored after repeated pleas from organisers that fans respect the family after her coffin was surrounded.

""All of us loved Brenda and her music, which is why we are here in our thousands," Mbeki told crowd of about 10,000.

Fassie, known as "Madonna of the Townships" died on May 9 at Sunninghill Hospital, two weeks after an asthma attack caused cardiac arrest and left her in a coma. She was 39.

Mbeki spoke of Fassie's known drug addiction and said it was a problem that needed to be addressed in the artistic community.

"We wanted Brenda to live to her 80s. We need to ensure that we save our artists from those problems," he said.

He said that South Africans had a responsibility to help people who battled drug addiction.

"We know the problems our artists face. We know that there are drugs here in schools in Cape Town. We have to fight this problem."

Earlier in the day as the crowd milled around waiting for the funeral to start people danced and recalled Fassie's life.

"I remember I was about 16 when she become big. I used to come home after school on Friday and stand at my front door – down the road at the hall they were playing her music. My mother was very strict but all I wanted to do was dance to Brenda's music," said Nomthandazo Kama, 40.

Kama said that although Fassie was controversial people should not judge her harshly.

"We are all human beings we should not judge her. I appreciate Brenda and her music. She is a big loss for us. She was somebody special... she was so open," Kama said.

Fassie's cousin Feziwe Alberts said she was very proud of the singer.

"I am very sorry for what has happened but I am very proud of her. Let's enjoy ourselves like she did," said Feziwe, who said she and Fassie shared a grandmother.

During the service Fassie's sister Caroline Fassie told mourners that her sister had started on the road to stardom when she was two-years-old.

"She captured the hearts of many. Her mother was often heard saying 'she is going to be just like Elizabeth Taylor'."

Fassie's coffin left the stadium just after 1pm as artists like Thandiswa Mazwai sang a musical tribute.

Fassie, also known as "the girl with the golden voice", "South Africa's queen of pop" and "undisputed queen of the vocals", was at the forefront of black South African popular music for 20 years.

Industry insiders and admirers noted her more extreme behaviour threatened to undermine her exceptional musical talent – but she remained one of the biggest sellers the country has ever produced.

Her musical future was given a kickstart when producer Koloi Lebona heard her sing in 1979, at the age of 16.

Following her early success, Fassie headed into a downward spiral, spending, by her own admission, much of the early 1990s in a cocaine haze.

In 1999 Fassie was on top of the world when she scooped the Kora Award for the best female artist.

For four years in a row Fassie won the SA Music Awards award for best selling release for the albums Memeza, Amadlozi, Nomakanjani and Mina Nawe.

All the albums earned the title of the country's most popular album in the year of their release.

Fassie's popularity spread through most of Africa and she toured the United States in 2001, leading to hopes that she could become an international pop star.

Time magazine devoted three pages to Fassie in December 2001, headlined "The Madonna of the Townships". The article focused on her extraordinary talent, but also mentioned Fassie's drug use, bisexuality and diva-like tantrums.

She celebrated her 39th birthday shortly before her death with the release of her new album Mali. – Sapa

Related links stories
Brenda's coke laced with rat poison: report [24/05/2004]




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