“I wake up, every morning to see my people, umqombothi…” Now what 21st century adult does not know the first lines of Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s world famous song? I hum the song to myself as I write this treatise. Did she reign supreme in the 90’s or what?!
Yvonne Machaka the songstress was born in 1965 in Soweto, South Africa to Puti and Sophie Machaka. Her father passed away when she was 11 years old, and her mother was left to fend for her 3 daughters on the salary of a domestic servant. Her memories of childhood were of dark days when the apartheid Government took away their house after their Father’s passing and of living together in the backroom of her Mother’s “Madam’s” house.
It was not the best of times, but according to Yvonne, her mother made the impossible happen- “My Mother made sure we all had education. She protected us, and ensured that we had everything that we needed. She instilled solid values in us. She was a strict disciplinarian – we had rules, and we had a curfew. I am the woman I am because of my Mother.”
“The Princess of Africa” as she became known, was the first black child to appear on television in apartheid South Africa. Yvonne started singing at the age of 19 in 1985 when Phil Hollis of Dephon Records discovered her in Johannesburg. Shortly after, her debut album “I’m in Love With a DJ”, sold 35,000 copies, and the title track became an instant hit. Over the course of 27 years, Yvonne has released several award winning albums including, “Burning Up”, “Sangoma”, “Who’s The Boss”, “Motherland”, ” Be Proud to be African”, “Thank You Mr DJ”, “Back on my Feet”, “Rhythm of Life”, “Who’s got the Power”, “Bombani ( Tiko Rahini), “Power of Afrika”, “Yvonne and Friends”, “Kwenzenjani”, “I Cry for Freedom”, “Makoti”, “Motherland” and the ever-popular “Umqombothi” which means, African Beer”. Her latest album is titled “Amazing Man”.
Her unparalleled success and devotion to making excellent music has brought her before Kings indeed. From Nelson Mandela who said of her, “It is what we make of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another. Yvonne, you are a testament to my belief. You have made all of South Africa proud to claim you as a national icon. You have motivated millions of women and men on our continent. Your generosity has benefited untold numbers of families and orphans facing the challenges of AIDS, terminal illness, abuse, poverty, and illiteracy. I know you will always make your indelible mark wherever you go, and with whatever you do. There is no stopping you! You will always be my Princess of Africa.” To HRM Queen Elizabeth, President Bill Clinton, President Thabo Mbeki, and many other world leaders. Yvonne has shared a stage with megastars including Bono, Angelique Kidjo, Annie Lennox, Youssou N’Dour, the classic rock band Queen, Johnny Clegg, Miriam Makeba, and Hugh Masekela, to name a few.
Also possessed of an entrepreneurial spirit, Yvonne formed companies- Chaka Chaka Promotions, Chaka Chaka Music and also manages a limousine company with her husband Dr. Mandlelele Mhinga with whom she has 4 sons. She has starred on talk radio and television shows, and acted in several South African television dramas. In 2009 Yvonne shot her debut feature film, ‘Foreign Demos’, in which she played the Lead role as Josephine.
At the pinnacle of her astounding, globally acclaimed musical success, Yvonne chose to channel her fame and resources towards noble, selfless and humanitarian causes. She founded the Princess of Africa Foundation, a charitable Organisation that helps raise awareness in order to eradicate malaria. Her seemingly personal grouse with the disease was fanned after she lost a band member and friend to malaria. To lend further credence to her crusade, she was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador against malaria and a Roll-Back Malaria Ambassador as well. In line with her mandate, she tours Africa, teaching literacy, promoting the rights of women and working tirelessly for the protection of children.
In furtherance of her goals, she made a heart-warming film, “The Motherland Tour – A Journey of African Women” in which she toured across Africa to meet with women who are pioneering defensible development on health issues in their communities. It shares the personal stories of those she encountered and profiles their work on issues including maternal and child health, women’s empowerment, education, and poverty.
According to Yvonne at the screening of her film, “the global goals on HIV, Malaria, TB and Maternal and Child Health that once seemed so impossible are now within our grasp. I hope my film inspires everyone to get involved in supporting these initiatives, together we can all make a difference in the global fight against poverty.”
In recognition of her dedication and drive to ensure the well-being of others as well as having a good head on her shoulders, Yvonne was appointed and served as an Ambassador for the University of South Africa (UNISA), City of Johannesburg Tourism and Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Campaign. She was also made an honorary Colonel in the South African Air Force, where she is involved in team-building and promoting excellence in communication. She teaches literacy part time at the University of South Africa, sits on several boards of charitable organisations and NGOs, and serves on the board of the Johannesburg Tourism Company. Yvonne is also a patron of the Film & Publication Board (FPB) South Africa, and is spearheading its anti-child pornography campaign.
At an interview with Amani Spas, Yvonne stated that her biggest dream is to meet her creator. She says, “I travel, meet many people, see different places. There are those who say “Jesus is not alive” or “it’s just science” – I respect everyone’s view. But I want to know where I come from, who created me. I want to know whether it’s okay to die, whether it is a good place where my parents are…what is on the other side of death…”
Her mantra for living is wrapped around a central theme which is thankfulness for the destiny that has been entrusted upon each man. She has been known to say “God, thank you for the life that you have given me. I love life, and I live it to the fullest, and “we are the instruments of Heaven. Our work is not design, but destiny.”
Yvonne has used her colossal musical aptitude to reach the masses, and raise a platform to make visible impact throughout the African continent. We applaud her and urge others; make good use of what you have been given. As Nelson Mandela aptly stated, “It is what we make of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”