Opinion: The Zodwa Wabantu effect got me... and got me hard!
It was the first time I met Zodwa Rebecca Libram in person. Until then the only thing I knew was that she doesn't like wearing underwear, loves Savanna and is able to make vosho ( a dance move) look like it requires an actual qualification. I didn't know what to expect but what a wow. What a yeses.
When she walked in her presence was hard to ignore. Strangely, she seemed almost oblivious to the increasing amount of stares and pointing. She took her time to greet my colleagues, giving hugs and genuine smiles to each person.
Before we had even started, I had already added two more qualities to the entertainer: She commands attention and she's humble.
Our interview didn’t begin for at least another 15 minutes as word quickly spread through the office that Zodwa was in the building, resulting in a mini-meltdown.
But Zodwa guys. She posed for each picture like she had the whole day, unlike some of your faves who rant about fans snaps.
After what seemed like forever, I had Zodwa all to myself. Questions in hand, recorder on, I was ready to hear her story.
As we began, I was initially taken aback by how relaxed she was and how she opened up so readily about the story of her life. Her early life story is familiar to that of many orphaned (and often) black kids from poverty stricken families.
Even though I have heard similar versions I was totally captivated by the acceptance in her tone as she relived the hardships she’s endured.
"My mom passed away when I was 11. That is the reason I left home when I was 16. Life was changing and it wasn’t easy. I had to fight for food and I could see then that that isn't the way life should be,” she said, before laughing.
The laugh, I felt, was to stop her from breaking down. You see, she hasn't gone into this kind of detail about her life before. She masks it with her dancing and no-nonsense attitude.
A dead mother, an absent father and the abuse she endured while growing up is told matter of factly. She's got nothing to hide. She's a survivor.
"If you asked me out then I would sleep at your place and in the morning I would expect money. Some may say it's prostitution but I was hustling. I just needed to survive."
Growing up😂😂😂😂😂 my story not yours just listen. On a date spend less on me,help me with cash to better my life. Look @ me now. A bottle of Champagne R2500 that's my Monthly grocery,so I wanted that Cash,not expensive Alcohol in my tummy. If that's ukugosha so be it🙌🙌🙌👊 you asked me out,I never asked you out😊 Sunday World interview Raw & uncut Zodwa Wabantu.
As an orphan myself I related to Zodwa. I felt conflicted about whether to push her, knowing that speaking about these things really makes you dig deep. As a journalist I knew I had to carry on. Zodwa sensed my hesitation and laughed lightly, assuring me that she regrets nothing as she accepted her fate a long time ago.
I have had the privilege of interviewing some prominent figures and hearing stories that have inspired me, angered me and left me overjoyed. But Zodwa's story threatened to leave me 'undecided'.
I couldn't decide if I was happy or sad for Zodwa as she took me through the turbulence of her life journey. She explained that after blazing through her teenage years, and hustling her way through the 20s, it was only at 28 that she finally felt excited about a life development.
An entire 28-years-old to feel happy.
It was her relocation to Durban and the birth of Zodwa Wabantu that was the best thing to happen to her. She got a job and was earning a massive salary of R6,500 a month. That was her turning point.
Fast forward to 2017 and she now charges in excess of R25,000 for an appearance which includes her dancing and 'socialising skills.'
For a person with no matric and “no apparent talent,", she is doing the most. By the time she took me through the details of life as Zodwa Wabantu, I wanted to hug her.
I felt a strong need to let her know that she did good. I wanted to celebrate her strength.
Zodwa is fully aware that her “career lifespan” is limited and said it several times during the interview. She's here for the money and nothing else. She's not interested in fame, industry status or status quo. She's planning a “quick in and out”.
“I’m not here for anything other than money. All I want is my money.”
She wants security and that is her definition of happiness. Looking at her past, I understand. I was also surprised that despite everything she has gone through, she credits God for the good and bad. That's how she lives her liberated life.
The thing about Zodwa is that you can't box her. She's no nudist but loves being naked. She acknowledges a higher power but makes her own rules. Socially constructed theories? Patriarchy? She’s not about that life.
“I’m not easily intimidated. I know who I am. As I said, growing up the way I did, I could have been a useless person drinking alcohol at home or having three children. Or I could have died, but I didn’t. So now I am living MY life. I don’t care. I am living my life, my way”
As we wrap up, Zodwa recalls the abuse and name-calling she's received because of her “unlady-like dance moves”, her refusal to wear underwear and drinking what many call a “men’s beer”. But she considers it a small sacrifice for the DMs she gets from women inspired by her life.
I'm willing to admit that Zodwa Wabantu is a product of life. Whatever judgements on her are neither here nor there because, the truth is, she is living her best life.
I couldn't put my finger on exactly what effect Zodwa's presence and story had on me until she left. Then I realised it was admiration. I admire that she kept (and keeps) going no matter what life throws at her. She has faced adversity, made her own rules and celebrates herself. She's found a winning recipe and that why Zodwa fever got me.