Eulogy by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the funeral of Joseph Shabalala

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy at the funeral of late music icon Joseph Shabalala, who is the founder of Grammy award-winning isicathamiya group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.


Programme Directors, Minister Nathi Mthethwa and MEC Kwazi Mshengu,

The Shabalala Family and the extended family,

Members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo,

Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Sihle Zikalala,

Speaker of the National Assembly

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Deputy Chief Justice and Spouse

Former First Lady Ms Madiba

MECs and Mayors,

MPs and MPLs,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Members of the musical and cultural fraternity,

Religious and traditional leaders,

Leaders of various political parties and trade unions

People of Mnambithi,

Fellow Mourners,

We are here this morning to bid a sad farewell and pay tribute to Dr Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphathimandla Bigboy Mxoveni Shabalala, a man truly deserving of the title of legend, isihlabani!

We pay tribute to you Mshengu, Shabalala, Donga luka Mavuso, Sidwaba si Luthuli, Ngxabalala, Mabhedla!

On behalf of the government and the people of the Republic of South Africa I convey my deepest condolences to the Shabalala family, to the members of Amambazo Amnyama and to the music fraternity on their loss.

Bab’ Shabalala was a man amongst men, indoda emadodeni!

He was one of South Africa’s most decorated artists; a musical genius, a prolific composer, a multi-talented singer, a nifty dancer and an accomplished choreographer.

In the course of his successful career he scaled the heights of stardom on stages and concert halls around the world.

He put Zulu culture, his hometown of Ladysmith and South Africa on the world map.

Where in the world did he not perform? Bayamazi eGermany, eJapan, eAustralia, eAmerica naseNgilandi.

And yet despite his success he had his feet firmly on the ground: the ground right here in this community where he was born, and where he raised his family.

He was a son of Ladysmith, and it is this community that can hold its head up high for having produced this maestro, this leader and this this man of deep and abiding faith.

Indeed, our brother and father has left us to join the heavenly choir.

But the imprint he has left on the music world, on this community and on our nation will continue to be felt long after his gone.

Fellow South Africans and Mambazo fans around the world,

Wherever I have travelled in the world, people have related to me the experience of hearing for the first time the music in which Bab’ Shabalala distinguished himself.

Many, including myself, have been captivated by the stirring sound that rises and falls, and rises again on the strength of vocals alone.

The quietly majestic sound of scathamiya, and of imbube, another form in which Bab’ Shabalala excelled, has been known to move listeners worldwide to tears.

It is an extraordinary musical tradition that is uniquely South African.

It takes you back to the hills and valleys of Mnambithi, and to the farm where Bab’ Shabalala grew up and worked as a child.

It transports us in the cars, taxis and trains, along the roads and railway lines that cut into the land, and takes us into the interior where the cities of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo rise.

It carries you into homes in the villages, into the townships and into the mine hostels, where this genre found resonance during our apartheid past.

Abazi umlando bathi isicathamiya sisuka egameni “ukucathama”, to tiptoe.

Because white administrators would not allow singing and dancing loudly in the hostels, hostel dwellers would perform in low voices and tiptoe.

Since it was founded in 1959 by Bab’ Shabalala under the name Ezimnyama, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been the soundtrack to our national life.

Their music has carried to the world the South African people’s story of pain, dispossession and loss, but also tales of camaraderie, friendship, triumph and faith.

Bab’ Shabalala composed lyrics of resistance and of resilience.

As the Washington Post obituary for Bab’ Shabalala noted: “they spoke to the rampant racial and economic disparities and oppression of black South Africans living under apartheid.”

We recall the haunting melody of the song, “Weeping”, of the man who lived in fear, and built a wall of steel and flame, with men with guns to keep it tame.

We all know the lyrics of “Homeless” that came to personify the condition of a people dispossessed of their ancestral land; and of many other songs.

And who can forget their rendition of Shosholoza, the evocative melody that tells the story of the trains carrying men from the villages to the mines.

Bab’ Shabalala celebrated diversity. In later years Ladysmith Black Mambazo were to compose songs like

“Ay’hlalephansi” – Sit down and Make Peace, “Love your Neighbour” and “Different Colours mean Nothing to Me”: all tunes that harnessed the new era of reconciliation and democracy in South Africa.

Fellow Mourners,

Bab’ Shabalala always said he sang to live and lived to sing.

Many of the lyrics he composed reflected his own lived experience, and of growing up amidst hardship.

He was the son of farmworkers, and the eldest of eight children. He was forced to leave school at the age of 12 when his father died to care for his siblings, and moved to Durban while still a teenager to work in a factory.

He understood too well the lives of the millions of men, women and children of South Africa denied opportunity because they were unlucky enough to be born into a system that valued them less because of the colour of their skin. This was conveyed in the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Last year I had the occasion to visited him at his home where he was recovering from surgery.

I congratulated him and Mambazo for having achieved what few musical groups either here or abroad have managed to accomplish, and that is to remain together despite such a great passage of time.
He was in high spirits despite his frail health.

It is testament to his leadership, and to the values of discipline and unity he instilled, that Ladysmith Black Mambazo remains a tour de force in world music more than half a century after it was formed.

Bantu bakithi,

Leading a collective to consistent success over many years has been a phenomenal achievement.

We can also achieve great success as individuals and as a country if we devote ourselves wholeheartedly to our talents, understanding that no success can ever come overnight, nor can it be done alone.

As writers have recorded, the future belongs to the united.

This community of Mnambithi, like many others in our country, is experiencing problems related to service delivery, and, in particular, water shortages.

We must work together to resolve these challenges.

As shown by the taxi feuds that happened here last year, differences can be resolved peacefully and collectively.
Bab’ Shabalala’s music promoted harmony, love and mutual tolerance.

As a nation, we can, like Mambazo, work as a team, despite political differences, to realise the South Africa we want to live in.
Baba Shabalala’s life is instructive in many ways.

He was not formally trained in music.

He learned by listening to others, from other genres and from his own mistakes.

He championed pride in culture and language and indigenous music at a time when our cultures were being degraded and denigrated by our oppressors.

He rallied his team around his vision, and like a span of oxen they pulled together.

The mambazo or axe was the means with which they would pave their way to success, and indeed, they did.

He believed not in keeping one’s talent jealously to oneself, but in sharing it.

Bab’ Shabalala had long urged that various types of isicathamiya be researched, analysed by musicologists, be notated and be taught in music academies.

We want this to be recorded by artists, poets and academics.

It was also his greatest wish to see the Mambazo Academy for South African Music and Culture up and running.

I am encouraged that just last week Premier Zikalala addressed this matter at a memorial service. We must do all we can to see this dream realized, and I call on both the public and private sectors to join hands to make it a reality.

The academy will build on the work began by the group two years ago as part of a Mobile Academy Programme supported by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture. In 2018 the group began visiting high schools in this province offering music workshops for young aspiring artists.

I know Bab’ Shabalala had wished to see this expanded to the rest of the country and we will make sure this materializes.

Like we supported the construction of the National Academy of Performing Arts in Jabulani Soweto in collaboration with the Caiphus Semenya Foundation and the construction of the Polokwane Theatre in partnership with the Limpopo Provincial Government, we will make sure the Mambazo Academy is built, this I can promise you.

Fellow Mourners,

Music is far more than entertainment.

It has the immense power to rouse people to action and give them a sense of purpose.

Our artists are as much our historians as the men and women in our schools, colleges and universities.

They are our seers and they are our prophets.

In the songs of Black Mambazo you find the rich history of our people everywhere.

They produced the legendary album Shaka Zulu in 1987, a chronicle of the life of one of our history’s most important figures.

The album won them their first Grammy, and they would go on to win five more, and produce over 40 albums and over 400 songs, many of them penned by Bab’ Shabalala himself.

Their music brought together people across political lines and helped to forge social cohesion.

Any country that honours its history respects its artists, for they are the voice of a people and the conscience of a nation.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo was the first and the only full-time professional choir that could live on royalties and concert fees alone.

Their producers at Gallo attested at that time that there had not been a record by Black Mambazo which never struck gold.

Like Lucky Dube, they filled halls and stadiums, lifting our spirits during dark days of our past.

But many of our artists have not had such fortune.
Many have struggled to make ends meet and to survive off the proceeds of their work.

Others, like Solomon Linda who composed the famous Mbube song, never got recognition in their lifetime.

In the memory of Bab’ Shabalala let us ensure that our artists receive their dues, that they are not exploited, and that their rights to their works are protected for their benefit and for the benefit of their descendants.

Minister Mthethwa is here with us today, and we recall your words at your 2018 engagement with the creative industries that the cultural and creative industries present vast untapped potential in terms of economic growth and job creation.

The Draft White Paper on Arts and Culture that is still before Parliament must be processed without delay. It includes important proposals around catalytic funding and financing for the creative sector, around accelerating transformation and inclusion, and importantly, on ensuring effective protection for the rights of practitioners.

We must also ensure legislation applicable to artists, creators, educators, broadcasters and owners are all taken into account when determining what steps to take in relation to the Copyright Amendment Bill.

Although there is certainly more we need to do, we can be proud of the support this government continues to give to the arts.

The Department has a Venture Capital Fund for the Arts and Culture to assist SMME’s in the cultural and creative industries to access working capital finance. We also continue to invest in Business Arts SA to provide early stage and start-up capital to young emerging cultural entrepreneurs; and the Department has since 2015 held a Creative Arts Incubator Programme for young artists.

Bantu bakithi,

As if prophesying about this moment, Bab’ Shabalala once sang about Ikhaya lamaqhawe – the home of the triumphant heroes.

Kukhon’ ikhaya lamaqhawe anqobile,

Kuhlala abangcwele bodwa lapho,

Izono nobohlungu nokuhlupheka akungeni khona

Nokukhala, nokungcola kuvalewe ngaphandle

Akungeni khona,

That is where Mshengu is now, alongside Tata Mandela and the other heroes of our struggle, and the many men and women who built this nation.

Lala ngoxolo qhawe lama qhawe!

Bakulindile oMfazo Mnyama, oJohnny Clegg, oJabu Khanyile, oMiriam Makeba noLucky Dube.

In the words of our Poet Laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile:

”You live forever in us. You are all the names that in dying for life, make life surer than death.”

Alwehlanga lungehli. Duduzekani nonke malunga omndeni, iqembu kanye nabangani.

Kuwe umuthi omkhulu! The baobab has fallen!

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy at the official funeral of musical icon and founder of Grammy award-winning isicathamiya group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala's official funeral at the Ladysmith indoor sports centre in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday, 22 February 2020.