national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, October 20, 2013


(Yvonne Chaka Chaka receives direction from photographer Adrian Steirn for her portrait shot. Pic by Gary Van Wyk)

The irrepressible Yvonne Chaka Chaka takes centre stage in 21 Icons South Africa and shows exactly why she is known as the “princess of Africa” tomorrow (Sunday, October 20) on SABC3. The singer of hits such as Burning Up, I'm in Love with a DJ, I Cry for Freedom and Umqombothi, Chaka Chaka is a role model, mentor and agent for change who is known and loved throughout Africa.

With seemingly boundless energy, Chaka Chaka has accomplished more in her almost 30-year career than most people do in a lifetime. Importantly, she has used her fame to campaign for various causes, including literacy, women’s and children’s rights, and transparency in the distribution and monitoring of donor aid. “My voice has given me a platform to air my views, to help people, to do advocacy and to try to change people’s lives. I believe in helping out there,” she tells filmmaker and photographer Adrian Steirn, creator of the 21 Icons project.

A goodwill ambassador for both Unicef and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, Chaka Chaka is passionate about doing her bit to help eradicate this disease that claims more than 600,000 lives each year, most of them in Africa. “I want to be the voice of the voiceless,” she says. “I want to be the voice of the people who, with $5, can buy a net and sleep under it but cannot afford to do it. I can go and lobby for them; I can talk to government leaders.”

Always one to take action and get involved, Chaka Chaka established the Princess of Africa Foundation charity in 2006 to complement her work in this field. Among many other projects, it has trained more than 100 women to be community healthcare workers in Limpopo villages where malaria prevalence is high. The disease personally touched her when one of her musicians, Phumzile Ntuli, died from cerebral malaria, which she had contracted during a tour with Chaka Chaka in Gabon.

Steirn’s inspiration for his portrait of Chaka Chaka, which will be published in the Sunday Times on October 20, is her own refusal to allow a poverty-stricken background to deter her from becoming what she wanted to be. “When I spoke to her she told me that when she was growing up she was too poor to afford a microphone, so she would sing holding a broomstick,” he says. “Now she sings for kings and queens - it’s a real rags-to-riches story.”

The resulting image shows Chaka Chaka doing exactly that on stage while in the background, a tiara rests atop a piano — a reference to her status as “princess of Africa”. The portrait, signed by Chaka Chaka, will be auctioned at the end of the series and the proceeds donated to her Foundation.

Public participation is invited on Twitter: @21icons; and

21 ICONS South Africa is televised at 18h57 on SABC3 and is proudly sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Nikon and Deloitte and supported by The Department of Arts & Culture as a nation-building initiative.