Johannesburg – She’s been a star for some time now yet conversations usually go back to how she’s the younger sister of another successful South African singer.
But that’s changing rapidly and she’s finally stepping out of her sibling’s shadow.
Zandie Khumalo made her mark with the release of her debut album, Izikhali ZamaNtungwa earlier this year, and fans still can’t get enough of it. Yet getting the 13-track album off the ground wasn’t easy, she tells us when we meet for a catch-up.
Switching record labels and dealing with the death of soccer star Senzo Meyiwa, who was gunned down in her mother’s house, are just some of the obstacles she’s had to face.
The 27-year-old, sporting her signature curly blonde mohawk, is stylishly dressed in a faux-leather jacket and warm scarf when she arrives at our Auckland Park office on a chilly afternoon. She’s comfortable and opens up easily, speaking about music, Senzo’s death and how close she is to her older sister, Kelly Khumalo.
Zandie was signed to Mabala Noise but says she left the record company when her husband, Mhlo Gumede, was accused of extorting money from upand-coming musicians in exchange for record deals. Mhlo (34) denied the allegations.
The former communications officer at Mabala Noise was never criminally charged and says he wasn’t in a position to cut such deals. Zandie supported her man all the way.
“I was only there [at Mabala Noise] because of my husband,” she says.
“When they had the fallout I left because I didn’t see why I should stay. Staying would’ve affected our marriage.”
She also thought it was time to leave because she hadn’t seen any progress in her career after joining the company in February last year.
Although Mabala Noise shot the music video to her single BitterSweet, “I never got to record any new music.”
Mhlo later approached Warner Music Group on her behalf and the international record company, whose artists include Zahara, Ed Sheeran, Cardi B and Bruno Mars, signed Zandie to their stable.
She was delighted to drop her album in February.
“I never thought I’d be where I am. People think because I’m Kelly’s sister I have it easy – I don’t.”
Her sacrifices, she says, have paid off.
“I’m my own person now – I’m no longer just Kelly Khumalo’s sister.”
Finding her feet and blazing her own trail wasn’t easy, she shares.
Kelly (33) is her best friend and the sisters have always been close.
“Kelly is a typical feisty Scorpio woman who’s always protected me since we were children. She still holds my hand when we cross the street together and we’ve even been arrested together!”
The pair were arrested on assault charges after allegedly smacking Mandisa Meyiwa, Senzo’s wife. It was tougher for Zandie to carve her career after the Orlando Pirates captain was killed in 2014.
“People have said a lot of hurtful things about the incident and sometimes I wish I could act out what happened on that night.”
Zandie wishes she could tell critics, “Here, watch and stop accusing us of something you know nothing about.”
“Everyone is in the dark and everyone has an opinion about what happened,” she says. “But were they there? We’re the ones who have to live with what we saw.”
No one has been arrested for Senzo’s murder but in April Kelly and ex-boyfriend Longwe Twala – who was in the house on that fateful night – were implicated in his killing in a series of tweets by @AdvBarryRoux [not affiliated with defence advocate Barry Roux].
The social media storm prompted Longwe to break his silence and in a Metro FM interview he said he was a “coward” because he ran out of the house when the intruders who allegedly shot Senzo entered. Zandie and her sister were invited to be interviewed too but refused.
“Kelly and I chose not to speak or defend ourselves because we were asked by the police not to say anything and we didn’t want to confuse people,” Zandie says.
They’re haunted by Senzo’s murder.
“How long do we have to defend ourselves? We said what we know and what we saw. We have a child at home we have to look at every day, who looks exactly like Senzo. It’s a constant reminder and it hurts.”
Two years after his murder Kelly wrote a song, My Truth, about the night Senzo was killed, but Zandie was unable to express herself because she gets flashbacks. She and Kelly don’t often publicly discuss Senzo’s murder but “the more we talk about it the better we feel.”
“Time has also helped”, she says.
In the first three months after Senzo’s murder the sisters struggled to speak about it.
“We needed counselling but we never got any because we don’t want to remember what happened. Senzo was killed in front of us,” she says.
Zandie seems stuck in the past as she repeats, “Senzo was killed in front of us”.
She’s reminded of Senzo every day when she looks at her niece, Kelly and Senzo’s daughter, Thingo (4).
“She’s a blessing from God. The way she acts, the way she smiles and the way she sings out loud reminds us of her daddy.”
Zandie hopes Senzo’s murderers will one day be brought to book. It’s something his father, Sam Meyiwa, desperately wants too.
Sam has been outspoken about his son’s murder investigation, and has accused Kelly and Zandie of knowing more than they’re letting on, but Zandie says they’ve learnt to ignore his comments.
“What can we do besides keep quiet?” she asks with a shrug. It’s almost four years since Senzo’s murder and Zandie says they still question why it happened.
“Sometimes we ask ourselves: ‘Why did it happen to us?’”
She says their mom, Ntombi Khumalo, has also been very supportive.
“My mom is a prayer warrior, but we’ll never heal from what we saw that night.”
Yet she doesn’t want to dwell on the past.
It’s been a tough few years but now Zandie wants to put it all behind her. She’s looking forward to a brighter future and is in talks with stablemates Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars about a possible collaboration.
“All I want to do is focus on being a great wife to my husband and being the best daughter and aunt, and to heal broken hearts through song,” she says.
She’s striking out on her own but Zandie will eternally be grateful to her big sister, who gave her a start in showbiz and always has her back.
“Kelly taught me to be true to myself, to be true to my craft, to know what I want in life, to fight for what I believe in.” Zandie prays for her sister every night.
“I pray for her happiness and a husband. I want her to find love,” she says. “I want her to get a loving man who’ll understand her – she deserves it