“I use my voice to change lives.” How an iconic musician is fighting malaria


Malaria is the cause of close to 500 000 deaths a year. For music legend Yvonne Chaka Chaka, this is more than just a devastating statistic. In the early days of her career, one of the musicians she worked with contracted cerebral malaria. An initial misdiagnosis led to her colleague and close friend passing on. The unfortunate and unnecessary death was the beginning of the singer’s journey as a malaria activist. For the past 13 years, she has worked tirelessly to improve healthcare in Africa.

Born in Soweto as Yvonne Machaka, the musician was raised by her mother, a domestic worker who taught her that who you are matters more than what you have. Machaka’s father passed away when she was just 11, leaving her with his love for music. From singing into a broomstick in her home, Machaka entered a talent show in 1981, becoming the first black child to appear on South African television. Her bold voice and vivacious personality was hard to ignore, and in her early 20s she was already churning out radio hits such as Umqombothi, and Thank You Mr DJ. Featuring the experiences of black South Africans in her lyrics and videos, Machaka’s music renewed the energy of a nation weighed down by the apartheid regime. She became an icon, locally and internationally. The mother of four is now using her voice, fame, and influence to work towards the eradication of malaria through her support of a number of health initiatives.

Machaka is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership and has worked with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The humanitarian founded the Princess of Africa Foundation in 2006, campaigning for improved preventative measures and treatment against malaria. In 2012, she became the first African woman to receive the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award. Machaka’s rise to stardom began more than three decades ago. But with her music and life-saving efforts, she’s still making a difference to South Africans today.