The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
ONLY a few months after emerging as the toast of the Zimbabwean music scene back in 2003, Sandra Ndebele was confronted with the realities of being a female performer when media reports surfaced alleging that she had taken a trip to Austria to get herself cured of HIV/Aids.
At a time when stigma and discrimination against the illness was still at an all-time high, Ndebele found herself at odds with the media in Zimbabwe when reports that she had gone overseas to get herself “cured” surfaced.
This was in 2003, the same year that Ndebele had released her smash hit album, Tshaya Tshaya.
Ndebele had taken the industry by storm with hit singles Mama and Malaika, announcing her arrival on the entertainment scene with songs that shot straight to the top of the charts. Not only was Ndebele a hit on the charts, she also captivated audiences with her colourful traditional outfits and daring live performances that won her many admirers and detractors.
Seventeen years after rapid and awe-inspiring emergence, Ndebele is still one of the most recognisable stars in local showbiz. A decade-and-a-half later Sandy, as she is commonly known to fans, still believes she got a raw deal from local media. While she got excessive coverage on her way to becoming the apple of Zimbabweans’ obsession, not all the headlines were kind. Two trips to South Africa and Austria produced a couple of screaming headlines she still remembers to this day.
“2003 was my first time going to Joburg. I went to South Africa for two weeks so I came back, maybe it was change of environment and everything, I came back a bit lighter and I had gained a little weight and so newspapers started running on me. The first thing they said was that I had gone to Joburg to do a boob job.
“That was the first thing. I cried and cried. Then the second thing after a year . . . I had gone to Austria. When I came back, they said I had gone to Austria to get cured of Aids,” she told lifestyle group Ndebeles Connect during an interview on their Instagram page last week.
Promiscuity was another charge levelled against her as she was put on trial in the court of public opinion.
“Then the Aids issue passed then there was no man that they didn’t say I passed through. That’s why I say of the things that I did; nothing was written about,” she said.
While fame had brought financial independence for a fresh-faced girl that had been recently weaned from Iyasa, it brought its fair share of problems. A supportive family, she said, had got her through the tough times.
“If you’ve got a strong family background it really helps. I remember this other time an article that was talking about me came out and the first call that I got at 6am that day was to confirm if I did it and I said no, I would never do such a thing. I knew that at least that side of things had now been managed. I had not done it.
“I remember this other time, when I launched Brand Sandra Ndebele, towards the end of 2003 I could now afford to take myself for a massage. The Nkulumane girl could now take herself to places. We used to shop at Edgars and I could now afford to shop for clothes I wanted without thinking about where the money would come from,” she said.
The negative coverage she got at the time convinced her that the Zimbabwean showbiz scene was no place for a woman. Others, without her thick skin, also started shying away from an unforgiving and unkind life in the spotlight.
“That’s why I say there are no female musicians because they are scared. I will give you an example, I remember one time when Fungisai (Zvakavapano-Mashavave) launched her album wearing leather boots and leather jackets, the whole media fraternity started saying she is now dressed like a worldly person because she is wearing leather pants and everything.
“But Mahendere Brothers went on and did the same thing and they were wearing leather jackets and they were dancing and throwing bums but because they’re boys no one said it was wrong. Everyone started celebrating them and saying they were right. We wore our skimpy skirts and they said we were gyrating. They forgot the cultural aspect. Maybe it is because we had introduced cleanliness to the tradition,” she said laughing.
Ndebele said while traditional groups that regularly performed in revealing traditional outfits were left unscathed, female artistes who attempted to so on their own were given the harshest of treatment.
“We have seen a lot of traditional groups, wearing what I used to wear but you’d never hear people name-shaming those groups and saying this is wrong. Be it mbakumba dancers or be it sitshikitsha dancers or be it amabhiza or Tswana dancers everyone dressed like that but there are no names attached to them. I was a victim of that but as time went on, I was like ahh okay, it takes only one person to take his person and write saying uMaNde is so and so. So, I decided that I shouldn’t mind and I should push my agenda and prove everyone wrong,” she said.
For Ndebele, over a decade-and-a-half in showbiz has exposed double standards in industry, as foreign performers are revered for doing the same things that she has been doing over the duration of her evergreen career.
“I was attached to every dead thing you can imagine. They would say I’m half naked on stage. But because I don’t know, culturally we’re not ready as people to embrace our own culture. They would prefer to watch Beyoncé wearing a swimming costume but if Sandy wears a swimming costume today, they will say this woman with three (children) is wearing swimming costumes, why? But they would pay $100 to see Beyoncé wearing a swimming costume. Personally, I feel like those attacks and those write-ups killed the female side of the industry, that’s why you don’t see a lot of Sandra Ndebeles. There are few people with the bravery to accept things like that,” she said.
Despite the tears, the heartbreaks and the setbacks, Ndebele insisted that she was still going strong. A husband and three children later, she is still the same old Sandy.
“From 2003 up to now I’m still in the game. I haven’t stopped and I’m not stopping any time soon. Until we have 20 Sandras I’m not stopping anytime soon. Personally, the music side of things I don’t take it as a hobby, I take it as a business and I want to monetise. Even if I don’t monetise through selling my CDs or public performance, I have to use this face to make money, if this face is relevant at any time you know you’re able to make money,” she said.