It’s a sad day for the South Africa. After a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, South African music icon Johnny Clegg has passed away at the age of 66. The star was a game-changer in the local music space and spoke out about the inequality people of colour faced during the Apartheid era. While many at the time were trying to segregate Africa, Johnny was on a mission to unite. His music had an impact on all South Africans and his work ultimately became the soundtrack to the lives of so many.
Johnny was born on 7 June 1953 in Bacup, Lancashire, England and moved to Johannesburg, South Africa with his Rhodesian mother when he was 6 years old. His exposure to Zulu migrant workers during adolescence introduced him to the culture and music. His involvement with black musicians often saw him arrested during Apartheid.
At the age of 17, together with Sipho Mchunu they formed their first band called Juluka. At the age of 33 in 1986, during the height of Apartheid, he partnered with Dudu Zulu to form his second inter-racial band called Savuka. Clegg also recorded several solo albums and enjoyed international success selling out concerts wherever he performed.
Apart from lecturing at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal respectively, Johnny studied anthropology and combined his studies with music.
He was awarded by a number of local and international bodies for his contribution to music and society notably by the French Government in 1991 with a Knight of Arts and Letters, and in 2015 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In 2012 he received the Order of Ikhamanga from the South African government. He was awarded a number of Honorary doctorates by the Universities of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Dartmouth College in the USA and the City University of New York.
He authored and published the book “UkuBuyisa Isidumbu” (1981, Ravan Press), and presented papers on “The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers in Johannesburg” in 1981 at the Grahamstown International Library of African Music and “Towards an understanding of African Dance: The Zulu Isishameni Style” in 1982 at Rhodes University.
Shortly after his diagnosis, Johnny embarked on a final world tour where he shared his music with those who felt moved by it one final time. The tour was a huge success and hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the shows to get a final glimpse of the star on stage before he retired. Johnny’s cancer returned more rigorous than ever not too long ago and, unfortunately, he succumbed to the disease on 16 July 2019. Johnny is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny and their two sons Jesse and Jaron.
Rest in peace, Johnny. You truly changed the nation. Hambe kahle.