‘Idols’ winner Yanga Sobetwa is not just one of the gang
The 17-year-old, who comes from crime-ravaged Delft, wants 'to draw teenagers closer to God through music'
Inside the guesthouse where SA Idols contestants stay during the contest, the walls are dotted with memorabilia. Pictures of season six winner Elvis Blue hang in the dining room. Outside, jacarandas are at the end of their seasonal bloom and drop their petals in the pool next to which sits Idols season 14 champion Yanga Sobetwa. The petite 17-year-old wears a black dress with a yellow flower pattern.
Seeing us, she ditches her pizza, offers us drinks and swaps her diamante sandals for white sneakers, tucking her laces in with acrylic nails manicured in alternating pink and black. Every movement is at once delicate and deliberate, casual and calculated in that way only teenage girls know how to do.
Yanga is the youngest winner in the competition’s history. Last Sunday night she wowed the judges and the nation with her performance of her single Scars in the finale. A record-breaking 14.2 million votes were cast before presenter Proverb announced her win.
“I was numb. It’s like a moment where you overthink and overanalyse everything. Like I was looking down and then I looked up and I saw two exit signs and I was like: ‘Does this mean something?’ And I was hearing Thato’s name in my head and then my name and I was like: ‘I don’t know anymore, Jesus take the wheel’.”
That moment had been years in the making. She was born in Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town, but doesn’t have any memories from there. Most of her childhood was spent in Khayelitsha, where she sang backup for vocalists at concerts. She won a talent competition for singing, gaining the attention of the pastor of her church.
“He guided me, he mentored me. Surrounding myself with the people that want the best for me helped me to be where I am now, to have the character that I have now.”
Her spirituality is at the centre of everything she does, she says, ascribing her love for singing, her zeal, her success and her being “stable-minded and levelheaded” to the vision she has been given “to draw teenagers closer to God through music”. She sees it as God’s plan that she was placed in Khayelitsha – “the home for music entertainment” – which became an essential part of moulding her musical career.
Yanga and her family now live in Delft, which consistently ranks as one of the worst crime areas in Cape Town. The curbing of gang warfare, crime and drug usage in the area is a major challenge for the city. This has been exacerbated by a growing population, particularly in the Blikkiesdorp settlement that has come to house those displaced by Cape Town’s housing crisis. Even so, Yanga’s community back home showed immense support throughout her three-month Idols journey, culminating in a public viewing of the final round with city officials in attendance.
Yanga hopes her home will come to represent more than gangsterism and crime. It will be known for having “an Idol”, and she wants the Delft community to be known for supporting her. “Now they are known for standing together, if they want to do something. It shows that if they want to beat crime, they can do it. It just needs them to stand together.”
Next year she will be homeschooling to complete her matric certificate and recording her album (“hopefully it’s going to be a bomb”) which will be a gospel pop testimony to her vision of “making disciples through music”.
She will also be busy building her brand, “introducing Yanga to the people”. She has ambitions to study entertainment law and music, and to give back to her community through the establishment of a music academy in Delft.
A task as an Idol will be Instagram upkeep. This week she reached the 100,000 follower milestone, which requires sustained engagement. Her need to monitor page hits, retweets and sponsorship revenue are the headaches of the modern (teen)ager amplified, where the attention and economy change as quickly as the jacarandas shed their purple petals. But Yanga’s pragmatism, humility and commitment to her community should stand in her in good stead through the changing seasons.