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Musicians hail ‘White Zulu’ who fought apartheid through music

The icon died on Tuesday at his Johannesburg home at the age of 66, four years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

South African singer Johnny Clegg (R) and dancer Dudu Zulu of South African band Savuka perform on stage at the Amnesty International Concert on October 10, 1988 in Abidjan. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - Legendary South African singer Johnny Clegg has been hailed across the world for his contribution to the fight for the country’s liberation through music.

The icon died on Tuesday at his Johannesburg home at the age of 66, four years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Sipho Mchunu, who co-founded the band Juluka with Clegg at the height of apartheid, spoke to 702 on Wednesday morning. Their music incorporated traditional Zulu styles like Maskandi before the group disbanded in 1985.

From the archives: Johnny Clegg’s ‘final journey’

Mchunu said despite the danger of being seen together during apartheid, they managed to make music. He said Clegg was a gift from God and said his heart was broken.

“That time was very heavy, the policies were very heavy... We couldn't walk together in the street, the police chased us, sometimes they put him in jail,” he said.

Musician Karen Zoid who was a friend of Clegg said they would go on bike rides together.

Zoid said Clegg was more than just an icon.

“His influence was far wider than people realise. With his gentle nature and his cocky jokes and interesting point of view, he changed the landscape of our lives. I will miss him for the rest of my life,” she said.

Freshly Ground lead singer Zolani Mahola said Clegg was a massive figure in her life.

“My biggest take away from Johnny is someone who has set forward a vision of what it is to be a South African. Whether you are an artist, whatever your discipline is, he really embodied what we want to be as South Africans as integrated beings,” Mahola said.

• South Africans pay tribute to Johnny Clegg

Clegg, dubbed the White Zulu, has also been described as a guiding light and a legend.

As well as his prolific career spanning decades, Clegg was known for bridging the racial divide at a time when the country was fighting apartheid.

Another music icon Tsepo Tshola said Clegg was a fighter.

“He was one of the most versatile musicians I’ve ever come across, that’s why they called him the white Zulu boy. And he was so humble and caring. I think he was a fighter and I’m really sad that he had to leave us so soon. May his soul rest in peace and my condolences to friends and family, and all the music lovers throughout the world.”

SPECIAL PATRIOT

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa has joined millions of South Africans in mourning the death of Clegg, describing him as a “special patriot”.

In a statement released on Wednesday morning, Ramaphosa praised Clegg for blending and embracing different cultures and for his political resistance.

“South Africa is a better place today due to the courage, resilience and irrepressible creativity of these two special icons from whom we are now taking our leave,” the president said.

“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.”

Ramaphosa offered his condolences to Clegg’s family, friends and followers, and the broad range of artists and organisations with whom he collaborated in South Africa and internationally during his performance career of four decades, in the course of which he sold more than five million albums.

“Johnny Clegg’s special relationship with Sipho Mchunu in Juluka, as well as with Dudu Zulu in Savuka, gave apartheid-era South Africa a window on the non-racial South Africa we were determined to achieve. Johnny Clegg will always live on in our hearts and in our homes as we replay his stirring blend of cultural celebration and political resistance. We have lost a special patriot,” he said.

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