Brenda launches heritage project

13 March 2006

A unique bronze sculpture of late pop diva Brenda Fassie was unveiled on Thursday in the Johannesburg theatre district of Newtown, the first of 30 memorials to be erected around South Africa to mark the 100th birthday of the Sunday Times newspaper.

The life-size statue of Fassie sits on a barstool with a microphone in front of her. A stool next to her invites passers-by to take a seat and “chill” for a while with the diva outside the Bassline jazz club.

The Sunday Times is to mark its centenary by commemorating some of the country’s remarkable newsmakers and events over the past 100 years.

A number of “permanent public art memorials” will be erected at strategic points to create “a permanent storytelling trail of built memorials”, with the object of marking some of the “compelling moments in 100 years of our history” at the places where they happened.

The project will promote a national identity by acknowledging a range of South African voices and experiences across racial, religious, sexual and cultural lines.

Chilling with Brenda

Artist Angus Taylor says he created the sculpture with a stool next to it to encourage people to interact with the artwork. Taylor has taken many of Fassie’s quotes and embossed them in the bronze in tiny letters, making the sculpture even more interactive, as passers-by have to get up close to read them.

“This is a very special day in the life of the Sunday Times,” said Mondli Makhanya, the editor of the newspaper. “It has been a long journey for us at the Sunday Times.”

He said it was the beginning of a 100-year project in which every village, town and city would recall their history. “Over the next few years, we will be inviting communities to tell their stories and put up memorials like this one.”

Fassie was chosen because “she encapsulates this beautiful town. She embodied the spirit of Johannesburg, she owned Johannesburg, she owned South Africa, the continent”.

‘I Miss Her’

Brenda Fassie – affectionately known to her fans as MaBrr – died tragically in May 2004, aged 39. She shot to fame as a teenager in the early 1980s with her first smash hit Weekend Special. Although she battled personal demons all her life, her remarkable talent kept Fassie on the charts throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

At the memorial unveiling her son Bongani Fassie sang I Miss Her, a song he had written specially for his mother. Afterwards he posed next to the sculpture, stroking her arm, clearly moved.

A total of 30 memorials are to be erected in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Mthatha in the newspaper’s centenary year.

“The stories portrayed in these installations are lifelike rather than heroic, attention-grabbing rather than epic,” said Charlotte Bauer, the director of the Sunday Times Heritage Project.

“They may represent some of the dominant news narratives of the 20th century, but they are all stories with real people at their heart, that in our journalistic opinion, helped shape the South Africa we know today.”

Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo also took the podium. “This is a great pleasure for me as a person to be part of the Sunday Times project. This is the woman who managed to combine groundbreaking musical success with accessibility and humanness that continues to draw a fierce loyalty and protectiveness from her fans.

“Tonight we salute MaBrrr,” Masondo said. “This is the one who brought hope and joy to many through her music. We adore her. Let us celebrate all of this together and may her legacy live on.”

Ten for Joburg
The 10 memorials in Johannesburg will be:

  • Brenda Fassie, pop diva (artist: Angus Taylor)
  • Tsietsi Mashinini, 16 June 1976 hero (artist: Johannes Phokela)
  • Lilian Ngoyi, struggle hero (artist: Stephen Maqashela)
  • Raymond Dart, discoverer of the Taung skull (artist: Marco Cianfanelli)
  • Duma Nokwe, first black advocate in the country (artist: Lewis Levin)
  • The burning of passes at the Hamidia Mosque in Newtown (artist: Usha Seejarim)
  • Lionel Philips, Randlord (artist: Karl Gietl)
  • Sunday Times story site (artist: Theresa-Anne Mackintosh)
  • The birthplace of the Orlando Pirates soccer team (artist: Sam Nhlengethwa)
  • Johannesburg Central Police Station, previously John Vorster Square, place of torture and death of seven in detention (artist: Kagiso Pat Mautloa)

The artists have been selected on the basis of their prior knowledge of the person or event or site.

“The artists’ interpretations of our chosen stories have been exciting and inspiring,” Bauer said.

The monuments will all be different – some will be mosaic creations, others sundials, trees or lighting sculptures. They will be instantly recognisable as Sunday Times sites and at the same time will be “time-proof, people-proof and weather-proof”.

“We hope that by launching these narrative memorials we will evoke a sense of curiosity or emotion, unlock memory and inspire a sense of national identity in the South African public,” Bauer said.

“We believe these ‘story sites’ will add a valuable stitch to the fabric of our communities, animating the past in ways we can make sense of now.”

The Sunday Times is planning a range of related activities to keep the momentum of its centenary going. It will hold a competition, encourage reader participation, develop internal story partnerships with its pull-out sections, and create an online museum of news stories, photographs, music and interviews, including a 360-degree virtual tour of all the heritage sites.

The Sunday Times Heritage Project is also set to become a curriculum subject at the Wits graduate school of arts.

Source: City of Johannesburg