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Miriam's love life was ruined by apartheid

By unknown | Nov 11, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

Married nine times, Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was better known for her quotable quotes on marriage and the men who shared her life.

She's the woman who said: "I am a marvellous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house."

Better still, this one: "I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back."

Had she had half the carefree life that Gabor lived, Miriam Makeba, the legendary songstress the world knows as Mama Africa, could easily have left us her own colourful sound bites on men and the institution of marriage.

But thanks to apartheid, she led a bitter life that drove her into the arms of men, no less than four times, who, if they were not younger than her, totally did not deserve her.

Zenzile, her given name, is isiXhosa for "you have done it to yourself" and, as a result, "you have no one to blame".

But the story of the Johannesburg-born diva, bar for her soul-soothing music, is one tear-jerker that can, above all others, better illustrate the cruelty of apartheid.

Pregnant and alone at 17, the lout who fathered her only child Bongi was a constable, James Kubayi, who took out the frustrations of his job on her.

Towards the tail-end of her book, written four years ago with Nomsa Mwamuka, Makeba would say of Kubayi, Gooli as he was affectionately called by those he didn't maul: "Tina managed to escape Ike. I managed to escape from Gooli. I don't even know what happened to him and I don't really care."

This conversation with former talk-show host Felicia Mabuza-Suttle came about as Makeba recalled watching Tina, a movie based on the life of her American opposite number, Tina Turner, whose marriage to Ike was the stuff horror flicks are made of.

After Gooli, fate drew Makeba to fellow band member, a ballad singer named Shunna Pillay, who, though Indian, paid ilobolo for her. They would take their life further when they hooked up again in London in the early years of her exiled life.

Though this was a classic case of wedded faux pas, lasting only three months, she luckily remained friends with Sonny, Pillay's nickname.

In his book, Shadow People, Pillay talks about his short-lived nuptials to the songbird and anti-apartheid activist.

Ironically, the man who wrote "Shunna Pillay tells this story of South Africa's 1950s with a deep sympathy for all those human beings in the world who yearn for freedom, liberty and the right to enjoy life on this earth. This is a brilliant tale, told with the lack of fear which finally drove Shunna out of his country of birth" is trumpeter Hugh Masekela, another of Makeba's husbands.

Born in Witbank in 1939, Masekela was also a few years his bride's junior.

It is again the loneliness of life in exile that could have led Makeba into the younger man's arms.

In the book Makeba tells of how she furiously hung up on Masekela after calling to reprimand him about complaining about her drinking to no less than Nelson Mandela!

The next man to enter her life was US civil rights firebrand Stokely Carmichael.

He died 10 years ago of prostate cancer in Conakry, Guinea, where they had set up home after Carmichael's brand of politics negatively affected Mama Africa's music career in America.

When she divorced Carmichael in 1978, "Makeba stayed in Guinea, serving as the country's ambassador to the UN and marrying a Belgian airline employee named Bageot Bah".

What, it begs the question, could a lonely woman, prevented from coming home to be among her own people or bury her mother, have done?

In the Mabuza-Suttle interview she's asked: "Is there someone special in your life who will have the honour of sharing the last years with you?"

She laughed the question off and recalled Tina, the movie.

Another Gabor line: "You never really know a man until you have divorced him."

The life foisted on her did not allow Makeba the chance to laugh like this about her own situation.

But did she really have no one but herself to blame, as her African name suggested? She was a beautiful soul that apartheid destroyed and if there's anyone to blame, it is the heresy that lost her her mother and daughter.


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