The lensman who displayed Brenda Fassie's lavish wedding to the world

Circa 1989 | Singer Brenda Fassie on her way to get married to Nhlanhla Mbambo. Seen here with her bridesmaid Yvonne Chaka Chaka inside the hired Limousine chatting before the ceremony.
Circa 1989 | Singer Brenda Fassie on her way to get married to Nhlanhla Mbambo. Seen here with her bridesmaid Yvonne Chaka Chaka inside the hired Limousine chatting before the ceremony.
Image: Mbuzeni Zulu

Veteran photojournalist Mbuzeni Zulu, dubbed the original paparazzo, remembers capturing Brenda Fassie’s lavish 1989 wedding to Nhlanhla Mbambo like it was yesterday.

Zulu describes the over-the-top soirée that had camera lights flashing from photographers from all corners of Mzansi as the biggest he has ever seen to date.

The moment forms part of Sowetan’s rich archives that have been recreated as part of a collaboration between Sowetan and Netflix that launched on Friday to celebrate  the paper’s 40th anniversary.

Fellow lensman Siphiwe Mhlambi has recreated the image with  his two muses JIVA! star Noxolo Dlamini and Blood & Water actor Khosi Ngema.

Noxolo Dlamini - JIVA! and Khosi Ngema from Blood & Water as Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
Noxolo Dlamini - JIVA! and Khosi Ngema from Blood & Water as Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
Image: SIPHIWE MHLAMBI

“I used to be friends with Brenda and had learnt that she was secretly planning this big wedding. So we were in Soweto because I used to capture social events and album launches,” Zulu recalled.

“We then ran into Brenda, who excitedly revealed that she was engaged. She used to love me a lot. She introduced me to Nhlanhla and I took pictures of them. On Monday, the Sowetan came out with this exclusive that she was engaged.”

Now that the cat was out of the bag, Fassie’s big Cape Town wedding was the one to watch on the social calendar. Zulu was flown by Sowetan to Cape Town for two weeks before the wedding to cover everything. But Zulu found it boring in his hotel room and spent most of the time at Fassie’s home in Langa.

Veteran photojournalist Mbuzeni Zulu, dubbed the original paparazzo.
Veteran photojournalist Mbuzeni Zulu, dubbed the original paparazzo.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

“Yvonne Chaka Chaka was the matron of honour. Then Rebecca Malope and Mercy Pakela were the other bridesmaids. There were also a number of upcoming artists in attendance and it attracted every artist in SA. It was a wedding with a great storm,” Zulu said.

“That wedding until today is still my best wedding of all time. Her wedding gown was inspired by that of Princess Diana and Nhlanhla’s suit was inspired by Prince Charles. It was very expensive too.

“At Brenda’s house they were slaughtering about two sheep a day and she was very open to community.”

Joining Sowetan in 1984, Zulu was born in Sophiatown, and documented with his lens the history of SA – from politics to entertainment and sports. Before retiring in 2008 after a hip replacement surgery, some of his favourite stars to shoot included Ray Phiri, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Thandi Klaasen and Abigail Kubeka.

Zulu’s focus now is on community building and he has been part of the school governing body at Senaoane Secondary School since 2015. He was appointed treasurer for three years, before he moved to being a chairperson.

He is a father of five children and his nephew is DJ Sbu.

“I’m a born artist and even in school I was good in art. I was a sculpture artist when I came across a camera. I started shooting, mostly social pictures,” Zulu said.

“I was born to be a photojournalist; my mom always loved reading newspapers and that love started there. So eventually I started as a freelancer at City Press.

“When I joined Sowetan it was vibrant because there was this second phase of our uprising after June 16.”

Part two of Sowetan40 x Netflix will debut exclusively in Time Out this Friday and looks at the 1990s through the lens of Neo Ntsoma and the pen of Lesley Mofokeng.

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