Irony number one, Brenda Fassie was born in the gutter but was determined not to die there. However, if rumours are true she ended up dying the kind of death that is synonymous with gutter junkies. At age 14 Brenda knew how she wanted to live her life, but even though she didn't foresee her own death, she obviously didn't envisage herself dying in a hospital ward, a stage would have been just perfect. Three years ago we all felt sick when news of her death broke. Not because we loved her unconditionally, since we loved her with uncompromising conditions. We felt bad because with her last breath died our creation. We felt we had the authority to kill Brenda because we made Brenda. We killed Brenda and it will serve her memory justice if we humbled ourselves and took collective responsibility for her death, maybe an annual pilgrimage at her Newtown statue would serve it well. Guitarist Carlos Santana once said, "It is fulfilling to be a person than a personality. The limousines and the (hotel) suites can't hug you". That is the understanding that we needed to have inorder to spare Brenda's life. That she was after all a human being. Brenda was a victim of a society that puts enormous pressure on its icons to perform against all odds. We tend to expect celebrities to live life according to our own written scripts which at times are beyond action. We expected Brenda to always laugh and be happy, even when she was not. We did not accept that Brenda faced the same demons that all of us faced. We didn't try to understand that after all the lights and screams, all alone at home Brenda, like any other person felt lonely and missed the simple things like brushing her teeth and taking a shower. To us Brenda had to be perfect way beyond angels. We didn't call her Madonna for nothing. In our expectation she was beyond Madonna Louise Ciccone but the Virgin Mary herself. Brenda could do no wrong, we made her believe simply because if fitted our relevance. At some stage she believed it too. How couldn't she while it came from the people who provided her with the lifestyle she needed. People who took care of her since she came to Jo'burg. At some stage in life we all have lost people close to us and felt we deserved our moment of sorrow. However when Brenda's mother passed away, we never allowed Brenda her moment to grieve and mourn her mother. We demanded that she be at her next live performance, otherwise we would sue her for non-appearance. Worse still, we expected her to be there and laugh as if nothing had happened. How she managed it, we'll never know, still open to speculation. All Brenda ever had was her music. Anybody threatening to take away her only meal ticket warranted her attention. And Brenda had to play the part, whatever it took to keep us happy. We never even allowed Brenda to be a mother to young Bongani. We couldn't deal with any picture of Brenda breastfeeding her son since such would have been a sight for sore eyes. We expected Brenda to be our Weekend Special and she did just that, even when she was pleading that she wasn't. When she appeared on television flanked by then Gauteng Premier Tokyo Sexwale and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela we claimed to understand how she felt. But nobody ever understood how Brenda felt but Brenda. We never tried to. Nobody ever understood the kind of demons she carried. When she went to drug rehab we didn't pray for her demons to be completely exorcised but for her to come back and entertain us. That's the Brenda we loved. There is a reported incidence of how late rapper Tupac Shakur once requested in the middle of a song that a crowd observe a moment of silence for their community member who was lynched earlier that day. It is reported that the show drowned in chaos as the crowd went berserk and started baying for Tupac's blood because they didn't feel like sharing his pain and observe a silence. That is how we treated Brenda. Brenda didn't need to have emotion or heart. She didn't have to hurt like the rest of us. She didn't have to cry like we do. And that's how we made Brenda try something that would make her happy forever, for us. And that's how Brenda got into trouble. Reports were out about how she named one of her dogs Chicco. We never tried to understand how that was possible. Brenda missed being treated like anybody else, not a celebrity. She knew her dog would never ever treat her like one. Her dog would always understand when her spirit was down and when she was happy. A dog had a better understanding of Brenda than all of us combined ever did. We made capital out of the death of Brenda's friends as if we had never lost any friends to questionable causes ourselves. Our response was that it was because she was a celebrity, but truly she was not an entertainer when she was holed up in a hotel room with a friend. Maybe we need to redefine celebrity before we kill many other people. We refused to acknowledge that Brenda was ours only on stage and deserved her privacy too. We all certified Brenda hardcore when the gossip mill alleged that she allegedly snorted her late mother's ashes. Junkies across the country felt that was the craziest shit anybody had ever pulled. If indeed she did it, we refused to see the deepening crisis but encouraged her on.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Lebo Mathosa
We felt she was losing it when she sang that the paparazzi were going to kill her like they did Princess Di. But Brenda was right because what she meant was that they were putting her under the same pressure that they did Di. The need for her to smile for the cameras even when her soul was in turmoil. Brenda also misunderstood the relationship between the record company and artist. Surely, record companies are not Support Groups but businesses. The poorer the artist the more the creativity. Hunger makes people think, and it suits record companies just fine. All they need are copies to fly off the shelves. Brenda blindly trusted a lot of people who in her final days were running scared at Sunninghill Hospital. The pressure that Brenda endured was the same that we put on all other artists. We expect them to live a certain lifestyle, drive a certain car, live in a certain house, forgetting that we are not there when the taxman comes knocking. And funny, to prove that they are as fickle as we are they live to our vain expectations. We killed Brenda and this obsession with celebrity lifestyles has to stop. She is one too many. Warfare Entertainment owner Kopano Dibakwane commented that for what it's worth MaBrrr lived her life fully. I shared the notion but only realised later that Brenda hasn't lived. The prologue to her own life story, far removed from our creation of the superstar was still on its 39th sentence, approaching 40.
Soweto poet Mbongeni Khumalo has a poem titled Let Us Be Human, which wraps our present predicament. Let us be human, and take collective responsibility for having killed the one rags to riches epic story character we ever had- Brenda Fassie.
*Pictures of Brenda's statue kindly donated by Karabo Kgoleng