The Sweetness of Brenda Fassie’s Zola Budd

” Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent” C  G. Jung.

Brenda Fassie: My childhood Icon

Today is the 1st day of the 12 Week The Artist’s Way  Challenge to myself  I wrote about it earlier this week.  I started writing my morning pages two days before to avoid the dread associated with starting something new, to limit you know, the anxiety and high expectations associated with starting something new.  This morning however I was tired and even though I woke up to my beep at five   this morning, I went back to sleep instead of writing. When I did eventually wake up at  7am, I am normally at work by this time, I debated whether I should spend time writing my morning pages, three pages of hand writing can be daunting when you don’t have time. So I decided to write them instead.  They went pretty fast and in no time I had crossed the road to hail a minibus-taxi, pointing my index finger up to the heavens signalling that I am going to Jozi. And what a surprise when I climbed into the Taxi, which was at that very moment playing late South African Pop Icon, Brenda Fassie’s – Zola Budd song!

A song which was so popular and spoke to almost every facet of South African Society at the time, then in the 1980’s Apartheid South Africa. That’s the  genius of being an Artist,  I am slowly finding out (bear with please those of you who have been down this road before) it is the ability to provide commentary, reflect on the sociopolitical concerns of the nation while making people smile, have fun and forget about their misery even for just a moment.   Brenda Fassie was gifted in this way.

Zola Budd ( now Zola Pieterse) is a former (white) South African  Olympic track and field competitor, who in less than three years broke the world record in women’s 5 thousand meters twice.  She was the fastest women in the world and  a little peculiar because she ran barefoot. In 1984, aged 17 she broke the women’s 5000 meters record with a time of 15:01.18.83.   But she  ran in Apartheid South Africa ( which was then excluded from international athletics) So  her time was excluded in the official world record. Ag shame, broken dreams.

While (White) South Africans were going on about the unfairness of the

Zola Budd The “Bare Foot Runner”

exclusion (I assume it was talk  of the Nation at the time, I was three), Black South Africans  found a way into the conversation by naming  a new fleet or range of  minibus taxi’s (public transport used mainly  by black Africans in South Africa carry 14-16 passengers)  especially in Johannesburg as Zola Budd, because they were just as fast!  Then comes little Brenda Fassie, the newest boldest, black girl making music in town, with a Hit Song, Zola Budd (taxi, runner, you decide), the Lyrics are pretty simple…

I want to be in Your Zola Budd

“Bhuti (brother) Ngiceli’ lift ( can I get a lift)

In your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, Zola budd!

I wanna be in your Zola Budd, Zola Budd, I want to be in your Zola Budd,  Zola Budd, Zola Budd!!

Two very simple lines  and a melody that still makes me want to stand up and run, dance on the spot like she did in the video , with her index finger flaying in the air. The Apartheid Government could not ban her (music/song) like they did so many more of black revolutionary  artists at the time.  Brenda’s Music was classified as “Bubble Gum” music. You know what you do with bubble gum, you first chew it , play with it, make bubbles, then spit it out when its sugary flavour is no more.  But I can still taste the  sugar in Brenda Fassie’s music today.  The song Zola Budd, which apart having a pop theme in the beginning ends with a soulful  choir like hymn with her almost crying..slowly repeating Zola Budd.. Zoooola Budd, Zola Budd!!. It echoed the  pain and aspirations of both black and white South Africans at the height  of the country’s state of  emergency, her song  spread and became popular like wildfire.  No only putting a shine on Brenda the artist our beloved star, but on the mini-bus taxis and even Zola Budd herself ( She has a song and taxi named after her).

You can imagine then how Popular Brenda Fassie must have been to little black girls like me  who growing up the literally dusty streets of  Soweto (because that’s where I’m from) and I’m sure in all the townships of this country.  We all wanted to be Brenda when we grew up, even boys; we immitated her from head to toe voice to actions. She  popularized braids (we called them singles)  with colourful  beads  ( like those worn by traditional healers sometimes) because that’s how she wore her hair.  She had bad teeth, but  nobody cared, she was more than her tiny frame, bigger greater and larger.   I used to love doing impersonations of Brenda Fassie as a child, any chance I’d get,  especially the “No No No senor – Please, Pleas  don’t do this to me”, track about  a woman being held hostage by her spanish lover.  I was  dark and awkwardly beautiful like  Brenda,  so even as a child in the process of becoming aware of myself and what made me different from other humans I could see myself in her, I identify with her. She embodied mine and South Africa’s aspirations.  She inspired me, made me believe in myself. That I am black , and that is beautiful. I think my mother took me to TV auditions once, because I believed I could be a Star, like Brenda Fassie. Maybe she did too.

So later on in her career Brenda Fassie released another hit song “Indaba ya’m i straight – ayifun’irula” [ My story is straight it doesn’t need a ruler]. It was a response to media accusations, if I am correct, about her sexuality or sexual orientation and activities, she was often rumored  to keep  multiple partners  – male and female. I think she was mostly seeing women at the time of her untimely death.

I think about that song and wonder what Mabrrr would have to say to the state of the nation today, when women are being raped and assaulted  on a daily basis, others only because they are gay – to “correct” them. Or what she would have to say, that our very own Runner and 800 meter’s record breaker, Caster Semenya, was almost stripped of her title and dreams of being an athlete  because she was accused of being a man, running as a woman.

So this  got me thinking about writing and how we document and celebrate our history,  our heritage and those people who had an impact in our lives like Brenda  Fassie.  This week marking the UNESCO World Heritage and Archive week .  I  have always wanted to be a performer, an artist , an entertainer. But since art didn’t pay,   my mother who was and still is my greatest supporter (and I)thought journalism would be best.  So now I would like to be myself, today, and use what I have now, today,my journalism education and vast experience ( Thank you mom)  to live out those childhood dreams wherever possible, so that when I do have children one day, I can allow them to explore  and accept who why are sooner, so they are more balanced and happier adults.  One of my colleagues who is celebrating 15  years as a  journalist at the public broadcaster today came to my desk this morning and said to me ” I wish I had the insight, 15 years ago, of using what I have been given to the best of my ability. I wish I had known then what I know now, that life is what you make of it now, here where you are, not somewhere in the future,  I’m glad I’m doing it now but I swear, I could have kicked myself”  – She is in her 50’s.

What are you still waiting for….


10 thoughts on “The Sweetness of Brenda Fassie’s Zola Budd

  1. This is beautiful. I was minding my own business, looking for Zola Budd lyrics when this article caught my attention. Your aspirations have inspired me and has got me thinking… what happened to musicians who had message in their music.

    1. Thank you Troy for stopping by. Much Appreciated. These are interesting questions indeed, I think the messages are there and they are for what it’s worth a reflection of our times, our current aspirations or what it is that shapes our lives today. I think Brenda’s legacy in this way has been underrated, and in many ways she was ahead of her time.

  2. I love this piece. I am about to do a “cabaret” show and I will be using Zola Budd. So as I am preparing for the show, I am reading all kind of fantastic things about Brenda. I was also very young when this song was released. It is a song that peppers my childhood memories as it was played throughout my young years at home and at special events. Thank you for this piece. #BrendaForever

    1. Thank you Lwando for your kind words. I am so glad that this piece resonates with you. Brenda was a very talented artists who had an impact on many people. talented person. I wish you all the best with your cabaret show, hope it goes well. We should write more about her.

  3. While I was listening to Zola Budd I decided to look for it on the internet and then I came across such a beautiful blog. Thanks Jedi for knowledge sharing 🙂

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