She’s the queen of gospel music, and has helped many souls to heal for more than three decades. With her distinctive voice and signature German haircuts, she’s survived the fickle music industry with barely any blemishes.
Dr Rebecca Malope is a world-renowned award-winning artist. But when Sis Ribs, as she is affectionately known, gets home, she’s just mama to her kids and gogo to her grandchildren.
LIKE SISTERS AND GIRLFRIENDS
Rebecca’s daughters, Noluthando and Thandeka Malope, arrive first at the Drum studios in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Her son, Zweli can’t join the shoot due to work commitments.
When the gospel star walks in her two grandsons, Lesedi and Khumo, run to their gogo for hugs. Rebecca apologises for being late. Getting older means she takes a little longer to get ready to leave the house, she says laughing.
Rebecca is quite a comedian even though she’s a strict mom, Noluthando and Thandeka say. The three women act more like sisters and girlfriends than mother and daughters, often checking each other’s hair and make-up.
Thandeka shares her shoes with her mom because they both wear size 4, while Noluthando, who’s a size 5, looks on.
A MOTHER OF THREE
After Rebecca’s sister and best friend Cynthia passed away suddenly in 1996, Rebecca, who cannot have children of her own, had to take care of her three children, Zweli, Noluthando and Thandeka.
It was a tough time, Rebecca explains, but she was only too happy to raise them as her own. “I worked really hard and made sure they were fed, and went to school,” she says.
Noluthando says when her biological mom passed away, it was easy for her to accept Sis Ribs as her mom. “It was a very easy transition because she and our mom were very close.
They had both been already raising us simultaneously and she was our second mom. At the time our mom passed away, we were already living with mama,” she says.
Noluthando describes her mom as fun yet strict. “She is more of a mentor and constantly wants to know what I am up to in terms of my career and business. She is always trying to organise our lives,” she says with a laugh.
The youngest of the three children, Thandeka, also emphasises how strict their mom is. “When we were still in school our friends’ parents needed to call her and confirm that indeed we are going to visit their home.”
This protectiveness continued even when she was at Varsity College studying for her BA in corporate communications, Thandeka says.
But through it all, they will never forget the lessons they’ve learnt from the gospel star. Sis Ribs taught them to work hard and strive for independence.
“She taught us that there is always room for improvement. She herself is always finding ways to improve herself, which encourages me to do the same because I am young and have a long way to go,” Thandeka says.
Adding to that, Noluthando says, “She has always emphasised the importance of being independent outside of your mom, your sister or your husband.”
Noluthando is currently studying towards a marketing degree and runs her own public relations and management company, Artistry Talent Management, and also manages her mother.
She is also a television presenter and previously presented SABC3’s Married in a Flash. The businesswoman shares that when she first opened her business, people always referred to her as “Rebecca’s daughter” and didn’t recognise her as her own brand.
“At first it was frustrating, but I then embraced it and realised that her brand complemented my brand and she too is part of who I am, and I cannot run away from it.”
WEEKENDS AT THE MALOPE HOME
Noluthando says the family usually spends the weekend at Rebecca’s house. The three children have all moved out of the family nest but don’t stay too far from each other.
“We love to chill and watch TV. She loves cooking and so she will prepare meals while we catch up on what is going on in our lives,” she says.
Noluthando’s son, Lesedi, says that he enjoys visiting his grandmother’s place because he gets to play with Khumo. “I also love playing cards with gogo.”
HER LIFE IN MUSIC
Rebecca’s musical career dates back to 1987 when she won the Shell Road to Fame musical competition, instantly making her a household name.
The star had always wanted to become a gospel artist and had in fact already recorded a gospel album with the Congregational Church Choir in Soweto. But it was held back so she could enter the Shell competition, which she won.
She got a recording contract and they wanted her to sing bubble-gum music (a genre of pop music) and Rebecca, who was new in the industry, obliged.
“I released five or six bubble-gum albums, which went gold or platinum. With every album released we would include one gospel single. I then felt I was known, and it was time for me to release gospel music,” she says.
“In 1991 my team and I told the big bosses that I want to release a gospel album. We were given the green light and that is when my gospel music career began.”
Rebecca’s first gospel album went double-platinum, beating her bubblegum music album sales. “The gospel music came at the height of apartheid and really helped many people heal through the struggle.”
In total the mom of three has released 35 albums and of her 36th, she says, “It is safe to say that this is the best album I have ever worked on. I have been recording it for about three years and will be released this year for sure.” Amen to that.
This article was originally published in the 15 May 2019 issue of Move!