‘We are healing’ – Robbie Malinga’s family on living without him
(from L to R) Ann Malinga, Zanokuhle Malinga and Robbie Malinga Jnr
Johannesburg - The young man stepping out of the sleek black Mercedes Benz is hard to miss.
He’s just a teen but has some serious bling and even sports the signature Versace sunglasses his dad used to wear. Robbie Malinga Jnr is wearing a Gucci jersey teamed with Nike sneakers, the designer shades completing his look.
His dad’s sunglasses help him to see the world through Robbie’s eyes, the younger Malinga says.
“I cherish it with all my heart.”
The 17-year-old is joined by his stylish mom, Ann (40), and little sister Zanokuhle (3). It’s the family’s first interview since the death of singer and producer Robbie Malinga in December.
The music maestro died aged 49 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. They’re learning to live without larger than-life Robbie, Ann says.
“All I can do right now is make sure I manage the household and try to take things one day at a time.”
Her life has been turned upside down since her husband’s untimely passing.
“I’m a single mom now. I don’t do much socialising, I’m always at home or with the kids,” she says.
Picking up the pieces of her life “definitely hasn’t been easy”, but Ann is grateful for the support of her family and a few close friends.
“I’ve also put all my trust in God to see me through.” And she knows she can rely on her son too. When Robbie’s health deteriorated he tried to prepare Robbie Jnr for the worst.
“He told me things are looking bad for him and if anything happens, I need to take care of the two women in the house because it’s my responsibility,” Robbie Jnr adds.
The other “woman” in the house is, of course, Zanokuhle. The toddler searches for something to nibble – until she finds a brownie – while her mother lets Robbie Jnr do the talking. Ann is reserved, but Robbie Jnr is confident and opens up easily.
Taking care of his mom and sister is a task he takes seriously, he says. “That’s all I care about right now.”
Her son has become her best friend and right-hand man, Ann says. He also helps her with family decisions: she wasn’t sure if it was the right time to open up about their loss until Robbie Jnr weighed in.
“I’m studying for my exams, but my mom asked if we should do the shoot and I said, ‘Yes, why not?’.” Mom and son are clearly close, yet it hasn’t stopped Ann’s parenting style from coming under fire following Robbie’s death.
A few months after his father’s passing Robbie Jnr posted a video on the Beke- zela hitmaker’s Instagram page informing Robbie’s 100 000 followers he’d be taking over his dad’s account. Then he caused a social media storm when he peppered the page with pictures of flashy cars, extravagant watches and shopping bags filled with Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana designer clothing.
In one video the Grade 10 private-school learner is seen revving a red Porsche parked in his parents’ garage at their Fourways mansion. Social media users called on Ann to intervene and ban her son from using his father’s account. But Ann is tired of the mom-bashing.
“I didn’t allow him to take over anything – he’s the one that opened the Instagram account for his dad and he’s been running that account for as long as I can remember.”
Robbie Jnr comes to his mom’s defence and says Ann is not a pushover.
“She’s strict but she lets me do whatever I want because she knows I’m responsible and I’d never do anything stupid.”
Her child hasn’t gone off the rails and his posts are not a plea for help, Ann adds.
“Robbie is responsible. He doesn’t drink or smoke like other teenagers who are going through a phase.” People shouldn’t worry about him because his father raised him well, Robbie Jnr says.
“People don’t really know me. They see the flashy lifestyle and think I’m spending my inheritance. I’m only 17. I’m a minor. I can’t just inherit my dad’s cars. I can’t get anything until I’m 21.”
His over-the-top lifestyle is certainly nothing new – their dad made sure they lived comfortably, and at his father’s funeral Robbie Jnr joked he even had Robbie’s credit card details “People think I’m acting up since my father died but I’ve always been this way. Even my little sister is super spoilt.”
As if on cue, the toddler throws a tantrum and flings herself to the floor when her mom tells her she can’t have a second brownie. Zanokuhle calms down when Ann promises to take her to Montecasino if she behaves during the shoot.
“The legacy has to go on. I am the new Robbie Malinga.”
It’s not just his father’s fashion legacy Robbie Jnr wants to grow. In a recent interview Tbo Touch asked the teen whether his dad taught him how to produce music. He was present when Robbie made all his hits, Robbie Jnr replied.
Father and son were working on upcoming projects that include a reality show and a music project, he says, but “my dad passed away before we could complete some of the projects.”
Robbie Jnr won’t reveal much but says his glam Instagram life is part of raising publicity for projects that are still in their early stages.
“The account is to assist with the work we had been planning all these years.”
He misses his dad, he says. “I’m still a kid and every kid needs a father figure. Sometimes I feel very sad and I wish I could bring him back, but I can’t. He and I were very close. I cherish the 17 years I had with him.”
He isn’t the only one longing for Robbie. Ann struggles to make eye contact as she reveals that what she misses most about Robbie is his sense of humour. Tears form as she speaks about him. “I miss my adviser, my confidant, my best friend, my biggest critic, my shoulder to cry on.”
Robbie and Ann met on Valentine’s Day in 1999 at a mutual friend’s house. They hit it off immediately and held a traditional wedding in 2003 followed by their lavish white wedding in 2012 at Glenburn Lodge & Spa in Muldersdrift, west of Johannesburg.
In November last year Robbie marked their anniversary with a fairy-tale Paris baecation.
“My pillar, my strength, my Robbie is surprised by the shade thrown his way on social media, particularly because his showy posts are part of him making good on a promise he made in January at his father’s funeral.
“My dad was quite the fashionista and he laid a foundation for us,” Robbie Jnr said in his farewell speech, bringing a smile to his mourning mom’s face.
“I want to build on that,” he continued friend, mother of my kids, my love for 17 years, happy anniversary,” Robbie captioned one of the many loved-up snaps he posted on social media. One month later he was dead.
She knew he would pass away, but nothing could prepare Ann for losing her soulmate. Robbie Jnr strokes his mom’s back as she recalls her husband’s last wishes.
“He said I should continue to manage the talent we have and ensure that Robbie Malinga Entertainment stays on a positive trajectory so that the baton may be passed on to our children.”
When his cancer got worse, Ann says Robbie decided to start preparing their son for the worst.
“They basically had their men’s talk and that brought a lot of clarity to my son.” Robbie reiterated the lessons he had instilled in Robbie Jnr while he was growing up and told him he should be prepared to one day head the Malinga household, Ann recalls.
She chokes back tears when she reveals the worst part of it all was watching her husband fade away. “Seeing such a jovial and kindred spirit in so much pain and not being able to do what he loved the most – performing and entertaining crowds – not only hurt him but hurt us too as a family.” Seeing Robbie bedridden and unable to speak during his last days tore her heart out.
“Watching him slip away was the most difficult and emotionally taxing time of our lives.” Robbie Jnr witnessed his father fight for his life, but Ann is relieved Zanokuhle is too young to understand what’s going on.
“She knows daddy has gone to heaven and won’t be coming back to us.” Ann wants her children to remember their father’s work. “I’m so glad my husband’s legacy is clean, and he can be remembered as an iconic individual who helped shape music in Africa.” Robbie became a hit singer following the success of his 1997 debut album Intsimbi, and later branched out to producing songs.
An accomplished pianist, his multiple love songs are as recognisable as the stars whose careers Robbie has helped launch – Zahara, Kelly Khumalo, DJ Sbu, Arthur Mafokate and Musa Sukwene, to name just a few.
When DRUM asked the Meadowland born producer what the secret to his success was, Robbie replied: “I move with the times.”
He ended his career on a high in December when he set the stage alight with a swan song performance in a concert honouring his 20 years in the industry. Away from the spotlight Robbie was a devoted husband and father, Ann says.
“My husband was extremely dedicated and loving to his family. Despite his public persona, he prioritised us and made sure we created unforgettable memories.” Now Ann wants to make new memories as they begin their journey of healing.
“I want to teach my kids to put God first in all they do, to have humility, respect and consistency – and to know the importance of family and love.” It’s what Robbie would have wanted.