She’s used to setting stages across the country alight with electrifying performances, but when we meet for a catch-up at her home, Winnie Khumalo has less pep in her step. The songbird is dressed comfortably in a vest, tracksuit pants and socks as she takes time out to nurse her health.
Winnie has spent the past decade dealing with one health crisis after the other – stomach ulcers, asthma, chest pains and fainting spells have seen the singer in and out of hospital. And lately, her ulcers have been acting up again.
“When you are on the road a lot it is not easy to watch what you eat,” Winnie explains. “Sometimes we are in places where the only thing we can eat is fried chicken and I cannot have fresh salads then. It is easier to control my diet when I am home.”
A HOMEGROWN HIT
Her Soweto home is filled with pictures of her family and plaques from her many musical hits. Winnie has been in the industry for 31 years and has her own record company, WinnKay Music Records & Management. She says her success lies in her ability to always reinvent herself. “My fans know ngekhe bangi confirm (they can never be sure of what I will do next).
The fact that I am not predictable is what keeps them coming back for more. “When the genre of the time is kwaito, I do kwaito; when it is gqom, I do gqom. Now it is amapiano and that is what I am doing. I believe that gives me an edge and keeps me relevant.” It’s been a while since she gave her fans a full album, but Winnie is working on it.
Read more: Winnie Khumalo, 31 years later
“In August I realised a single, Ixesha, which is dedicated to women. August is Women’s Month and I wanted us to encourage each other to unite and look out for each other. As women, we carry a lot of scars – but we are strong, that was the theme of that song. And it has been well received,” she says.
“I have also worked on an album single with Oskido called Dlala Piano. And I have another single with Team Mosha, Trademark and Exclusive Drumz. “I am working on my own album, which I will release next year,” she adds.
IN THE FAMILY
Winnie’s daughter, Rethabile, is following in her footsteps. “She is doing very well, right now she has a hit single, Umlilo, with DJ Zinhle. I am doing my best to have her learn as much as she can about the industry and to warn her about the not so glamorous side.”
The proud mom wants nothing but the best for her daughter, who she fondly calls Retha. Winnie, a single mom, has worked hard to raise Retha and Thando, her son with former boxing champion Dingaan “Rose of Soweto” Thobela.
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“When we were growing up, every elder was your parent and you would never dare do something wrong in front of them. But kids these days are just disrespectful and they have no manners,” Winnie says. “I know that I am not with my children 24/7, but I just hope when they are out there, they respect themselves, our family and the community at large.
“The truth is when they do something wrong people will not say, ‘Retha did this’, they will say, ‘Winnie’s daughter did this’, so that is why I hope they represent our family well.” Retha is 24 years old and Winnie says Thando, who is in the motor industry, does not like it when she reveals his age. “Somehow it messes with his street cred,” she jokes.
She was recently admitted to hospital for treatment of her ulcers, and she’s also been troubled by an abscess on her leg. “I think it reoccurred at least three or four times and I kept returning to the hospital to have it removed. I have received advice that this is not simply a medical issue, it has to do with the ancestors,” she says.
“I must admit it seems to be getting better since I started observing izinto zesintu (traditional ceremonies).” Part of her treatment includes a healthy diet. “Ag, but the truth is it is not nice to be following all these rules and not be able to eat what I like. We are all going to die, I could walk out of here and be hit by a truck and die having eaten leaves all the way, but while I am still on this earth ngicela ukuphila kamnandi (I would like to live well).”
Her old friend, Oskido, she says, has been helping her get specialised treatment because she refuses to let her health slow her down. “I take my pain medication before I perform so I do not feel the pain, otherwise I could not do it,” Winnie says.
But, “sometimes the body reminds me I am not young anymore and I must take it easy”, she adds.
NEW YEAR, NEW MUSIC
She’s looking forward to recharging over the festive break, then it’s back to work. “Besides working on mine and Retha’s albums, I am also working on a gospel EP with the great Sizwe Zako,” Winnie says.
“We will redo some of the songs we used to sing back in the day, some of which I did not quite understand because I was young.” Now that she’s older, she reflects more. “I enjoy dancing and entertaining people because I like to see them have fun, but I also like to bring people back to reality. We will release the EP in February in time for Easter khe sithandaza nje kancane (so we can just pray a little).
“Sometimes we need to tone things and go back to our Maker and thank Him for all our blessings. I would like all of us to thank the Lord for keeping us and our families safe.”