Winnie Mashaba looks back with pride

Gospel sensation Winnie Mashaba is still a loyal member of the ZCC and she wishes people would stop questioning it.

In celebration of 20 years of her illustrious career, we travelled all the way from Johannesburg to her hometown of Polokwane.

Our meeting point is at one of her favourite restaurants - Asha's - which specialises in local traditional cuisine. She orders free-range chicken.

The woman that sits in front of us is just as fabulous as the one we see on her Instagram page. Mashaba's facebeat is on point. We even joke that perhaps in her past life she was a slay queen.

The 37-year-old singer is perfecting what the new generation has coined modest fashion. But that has often come with a high price.

"I have received a lot of criticism. But as long as I know who I am, I won't get shaken," Mashaba confesses. "With Instagram people started seeing the kind of life I live. There was a lot of 'Winnie Mashaba has left ZCC and ke mozalwane' [born-again].

"I can still be beautiful and encourage other women to be beautiful. If I wear my doek and cover up, it's when I go to the house of the Lord. But in my spare time I'm just myself."

Mashaba strongly insists that although she's a loyal member of ZCC, she's no spokesperson. After her collaboration with Benjamin Dube on their song Aremo Obameleng, that's when people started speculating that she had left the church. "When I'm on stage I'm Winnie Mashaba, I'm not representing a church. I'm just a product of the church.

"I will never be a spokesperson of the church. It's my foundation. They have taught me to respect other churches and people. I don't have a relationship with both bishops [Barnabas and Joseph Lekganyane]. I'm just a churchgoer like any other person. I will be lying to you if I said I have direct contact with them."

Mashaba explains that a huge key to reinventing her sound over the years has been teaming up with various gospel artists from other churches.

A turning point was overcoming her fear in 2010 by recording for the first time live for her 10th album Go Tseba Jehovah. "People were saying I'm shying away from the old Winnie. Why are you now performing live and using instruments?" she recalls.

"But just recording in studio started to affect me when it came to booking shows and engaging with my fans."

Her 28-track new album The Journey with Winnie Mashaba drops next Friday and pays homage to her two decades. Recorded live at Emperors Palace, it's a mixed bag of her songs as requested by fans dating back to her debut album Exoda 20.

There are old favourites such as Ke Rata Wena; there is sleeper hits like the tribute to her late mother Robala Ka Kgoso Mme and new material such as opening track Nkabe Re Le Kae.

Mashaba plays us one of the songs on the album - a seven-minute tribute to her late industry pals Makgarebe A Bochabela and Oleseng Shuping. "I welcomed Makgarebe into the industry in 2003 when I was working with Solly Moholo. It was a sisterly relationship.

"The late Oleseng was my inspiration. I love his music a lot and I'm a huge fan as a daughter of Zion. He was a son of Zion."

Born in Ga-Phaahla, a small Limpopo village in Steelpoort, Mashaba is one of eight children. She had to raise her siblings after they were orphaned at a very young age. She has suffered two miscarriages in the past.

"Only time will tell if I will ever have kids. Only God's time is the right one.

"In God there is hope. Don't pressurise yourself, allow God to bless you with whatever he has planned for you."

Aside from her music domination, she also hosts a gospel music show Amahubo on Dumisa TV.

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