Johannesburg : Tributes poured in Wednesday for anti-apartheid singer Johnny Clegg, who 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.
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 language, culture and high kicks of Zulu 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”, 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.
A private funeral service will be held for the celebrated musician but a service will also be arranged for the public to pay their respects, his manager Roddy Quin said in a statement.
Clegg is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and their two sons Jesse and Jaron.