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‘I don’t get moved by anything any more’: Kelly Khumalo on her spiritual journey

03 April 2022 - 00:03
Kelly Khumalo will be hosting her first annual gospel concert, the Gospel Explosion at the Lyric Theatre – Gold Reef City , in the middle of April.
Kelly Khumalo will be hosting her first annual gospel concert, the Gospel Explosion at the Lyric Theatre – Gold Reef City , in the middle of April.
Image: Alon Skuy

I meet Kelly Khumalo backstage at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City. And like many larger than life public figures, she is much smaller in person but also so much more than you might have been led to expect. More calmly authoritative, more spiritual and much more humane and human.

She seems the embodiment of the pluck and courage required to make it in Joburg. And this casino is a strangely apt place to meet. As close as dammit to the birthplace of this crazy frontier mining town, where fortune is as fickle as the spin of a gaudy slot machine.

Kelly is preparing for her annual Gospel Show that was cancelled a week before lockdown two years ago. 

“I had to cancel everything  but I feel that it was God’s way of saying I wasn’t ready. Because between the person I was then and the person I am now I think there is a sea of difference. That is what lockdown did — it gives you the opportunity to deal with yourself, even the darkest parts of yourself.

“Lockdown forced all of us to pause and do some introspection which was really good for me, I won’t lie. It really grounded me as a mom, as a daughter, as a musician. Just being content with who you are and how far you have come — mistakes and all of that.”

The gospel show must have been the only thing that ground to a halt in the lockdown. Kelly has been busy. She has had two reality shows, the most recent being Tropika Island of Treasure All Stars which is about to air; a hit album and another one she is putting the finishing touches on; a movie; a skin brand; and a gin. She seems tireless but composed.  

We walk into the Dirty Habits Bistro, which makes me laugh given the context, and order a steak for Kelly — who says she deserves it after being on an acid-free diet for months, probably so she could look even better in a bikini — and some halloumi for me.

Sitting on the terrace with the fountain trickling in the background and the ersatz architecture as a backdrop, we discuss her tattoos.

She has a few. Wings, crosses, infinity, henna patterns, stars and the names of her children and her hit song Jehova.

But the most striking one is a rendition of her eye. “It’s my own eye — keeping track of you.” Is it her third eye? “It is if you think about it because I have one.”

I have grown to understand that some people on the other side of the keyboard are the most broken people
Kelly Khumalo

What we don’t discuss directly is the Netflix documentary about Senzo Meyiwa. But we do talk trauma and resilience.

“It is not so much about resilience, it is about recognising what you are going through, accepting it and moving on. There isn’t a K53 on how to deal with such things — I think acceptance and allowing time to heal what you are going through — because you cannot change it.”

So where does her strength come from to continue and rise above it all?

“I am very rooted in my spirituality and having been raised by women who are strongly rooted in God has helped me be the woman I am and to find the strength. I don’t leave the house without praying and talking to my ancestors. I am driving, I am praying, I am in the bathroom, I am praying. Something good comes, I am ‘thank you lord’. Something disturbs me, I am ‘Father please’.”

And where does she find the strength to cope with social media?  

“I have grown to understand that some people on the other side of the keyboard are the most broken people and they are forever projecting. What you say about me is a reflection of what you feel about yourself, because if you loved yourself and respected yourself, you would watch what you said to other people.

"It takes some training and self-actualisation and self-acceptance and self-love [but] when you know who you are, nothing that is said about you is going to shake you or make you feel otherwise.”

What would she tell her younger self, that young girl growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal with her grandmother?

“I don’t think I would advise her, I think she has done a great job making sure I become the woman I have become today.”  

What would she counsel her daughter? “Never compromise who you are ... stay true to yourself. The world is not based on just material stuff. Your self, your spirituality, your character being grounded as a whole is more important that the material stuff.

“When you are spiritually aligned everything falls into place. If you fall off the wagon, everything falls off the wagon. That is what I have learnt in the past eight years. I have lost, I have gained, I have been betrayed, I have literally seen everything.

“I don’t get moved by anything any more — God moves me, drives me, nothing else. I have gone through a spiritual enlightenment. My family kept asking me to let go what I was hanging on to.  As soon as God spoke to me I had no choice but to let go. And it has given me such peace and contentment.

“You hang on to traumas, you struggle to let go because the trauma has defined who you are and you don’t know who you are outside that trauma and pain. And it gets to the point that you have to let go.

"What was I hanging on to? Nothing — just an idea of what I went through in the past. But to heal requires commitment — it’s a work in progress — you have to constantly work through it until it does not hurt any more, it is just a scar that reminds you of what you have been through.”


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