Michelle Loewenstein
4 minute read
26 Jul 2015
11:00 am

PJ Powers: Coffee with a loved one (video)

Michelle Loewenstein

Our interview with PJ Powers isn't off to a good start.

PJ Powers speaks to The Citizen at Nice in Parkhurst, 21 July 2015. Picture: Neil McCartney

The Parkhurst restaurant we’ve chosen for the interview has refused to switch off its music, which will interfere with our sound equipment.

When we relay this to Powers, she’s appalled they won’t help us and fires off a line of expletives second to none.

We decide to move across the road to Nice, and Powers happily goes along with her PR agent, jokingly saying she’ll “pull an Elvis”. In other words, she’ll use a bit of star power to get us what we need – and star power is something that she has in spades.

This is a lesson Spar is learning the hard way after using her name in booze ads without her consent. As a former alcoholic, Powers was not impressed. She took the brand to the Advertising Standards Authority who ruled in her favour. When Spar still didn’t play nice, it was Powers’ fans that came out swinging for the woman they nicknamed Thandeka (loved one) all those years ago.

“On July 5 a whole lot of fans of mine sent through pictures of posters that were still up. Unfortunately they kept sending through posters. You know I have a lot of loyalty in this country,” she says with a smile. “We are going to take the legal route now. It’s insolent. It also proves that their apology was just another advertising stunt, really.”

I notice that as soon as the cameras start rolling Powers completely transforms. The silly jokes and swearing disappear and she is the picture of poise. She pauses slightly before giving me answers, her animated eyes studying me carefully as she sizes up my questions. Each response is almost word-perfect. This isn’t her first rodeo.

“It was a glorious month of my life,” she says, when I ask her about the upcoming Rugby World Cup and the recent anniversary of the 1995 World Cup, where her song World in Union became a symbol of our new democracy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz-JD0qeK1o

She recalls how in ’95, the old South African flag could still be seen at matches. However, at the final, the majority of fans had adopted the new one. This was all part of Nelson Mandela’s plan to use rugby to unite the country.

“He took a month, which is quite something, to eradicate the old South African flag. And then he walked on the field and people were just yelling, Nelson, Nelson!” she says.

Powers speaks of Mandela, a man who came to be her friend, with great respect and awe. Their relationship began when Powers’ music was banned for a year after she performed at a charity event alongside Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte in Zimbabwe in 1988. Apartheid was in full swing and being involved with such an event was a big no-no. Mandela wrote to her from prison, encouraging her to keep singing.

“I only realised how big a part of a political statement I was when Playing the Enemy came out and the documentary came out, and I was interviewed. It was strategically planned, which I think was genius.”

Powers looks fantastic and I can’t help but ask her how she keeps in shape. She says aside from eating healthily and being disciplined, a lot of it can be attributed to having a “huge inner child”.

“I’m extremely childish,” she says with a laugh.

Every so often we see a glimpse of this inner kid, who is full of fun and mischief. At one point she accidentally swears. Her PR admonishes her, and she responds with a cheeky, “I can say dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit!”

Powers’ struggle with alcoholism is well documented in her book Here I Am, released last year. She’s been sober for six years now. So what is her advice to recovering alcoholics?

“The first thing I would say is get to an AA meeting,” she says. “Secondly, it’s the most incredible journey you can expect to go on. Not just because of the not drinking, but the way it enriches your whole life. And it’s not as scary as it seems. I’m still the last person on the dance floor. I’m still the person that’ll get on a table in a restaurant. No, no, I’m not that bad, maybe the chair,” she laughs.

“Yes I took a sabbatical from all of that and drew back, but it’s okay. Because it’s daunting to think that far ahead. You think ‘will I ever have fun again’. And the truth is you will have more.”