Born in the late 60s in Lekazi near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, Dr Rebecca Malope was confined to a wheelchair after an illness and for a time, doctors believed that she would not walk again. But the relentless youngster went against the odds.
When she was 13 Rebecca and her sister, Cynthia, left home and went to Ermelo because Cynthia wanted to join a music group called Dan Nkosi and The Villagers. “But when we got to Ermelo, to our disappointment Dan Nkosi had disbanded The Villagers,” said Rebecca.
“We had hitched a ride to Johannesburg with nothing but the clothes on our backs. We were afraid to go back home because our father would beat us.”
Rebecca and her sister lived with nine other people in a small room in Evaton near Vereeniging.
“We went to Gallo Records but we were rejected. Some musicians told me I should go back to school – I was only 14. My sister and I were starving and Jabu Sibumbe, who played bass for Stimela, gave us money for food. He was like a father to us. Even today, he’s like a father to me.”
Like Job in the Bible, who suffered tremendous hardship but would never curse the Lord and was eventually rewarded for his faith, Rebecca believed God had a plan for her.
“That’s why I always tell people who are experiencing hard knocks to never give up. Keep on pushing because you never know – your luck could be waiting just around the corner.”
After battling her way through her teenage years, her turning point came in 1987 when, at 19, she won the Shell Road to Fame TV music talent search with the song Shine On in the best female vocalist category. Despite winning the contest she struggled to find a record company until Mike Fuller of Fuller Artists Management Enterprise arranged a recording contract for her and she recorded her first album, Sthembele Kuwe.
In 1990 Rebecca won the OKTV Award of Best South African female artist.
In 1993 it is estimated that more than one million listeners voted for her as Best Local Established Artist in the Coca Cola Full Blast Music Award Music Show. She won this in 1993 and 1994.
With respect to sales, all of her first ten gospel albums went gold and the last six were platinum. Malope has sold more than two million copies of her recordings. In 1995 her CD Shwele Baba sold more than 1 million copies in the three weeks after its release, becoming the fastest selling CD in the South African music history.
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