South Africans mourn singer Johnny Clegg - GulfToday

South Africans mourn singer Johnny Clegg


Johnny Clegg (left) and Joan Baez perform in Hyde Park, central London, in this file photo taken on June 27, 2008. Agence France-Presse

Tributes poured in on Wednesday for anti-apartheid singer Johnny Clegg, who has died aged 66, with politicians, musicians and friends lauding the “White Zulu” for building bridges in a divided nation.

“A beloved, inspirational and heroic voice has fallen silent and leaves all of us bereft of an exceptional compatriot and icon of social cohesion and non-racialism,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

The president paid homage to Clegg in parliament on Wednesday afternoon, describing his passing as a “collective sadness” for South Africans.

British-born Clegg was a pioneer — blending Zulu rhythms from his adopted South Africa with Western styles, all while defying apartheid segregation laws.

“We are blessed to have seen him... We will keep working for the country of his dreams,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation tweeted, describing Clegg as “a musical icon and a freedom fighter”.

Clegg mastered the Zulu language, culture and dance, forming multi-racial bands in defiance of the race-separating laws of the apartheid-era government, which censored his work.

Among his best-known tracks was “Asimbonanga”, Zulu for “We have not seen him”. It was released in 1987 following the declaration of a state of emergency by the apartheid government.

The song paid tribute to Nelson Mandela — then in jail — and was outlawed because any reference to the anti-apartheid leader was illegal.

It became an anthem for the anti-apartheid struggle.

After a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Clegg passed away Tuesday surrounded by family at his home in Johannesburg.

“He was just a gift from God,” said Sipho Mchunu, co-founder of Clegg’s first band Juluka, formed when Clegg was only 17.

“He was more than my brother... My heart is broken,” Mchunu told local radio station 702.

Moussa Soumbounou, general manager of Universal Music Africa, described him as one of the “symbols of post-apartheid reconciliation in South Africa”.

“Universal Music Africa would like to pay a great tribute to the great artist and man he was,” he told AFP.

Agence France-Presse

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