South African Musician Johnny Clegg, Passionate Anti -Apartheid Activist Is Dead At 66 Years

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Known as the “White Zulu” Johnny Clegg passed away after battling pancreas cancer for 4 years.

The South African musician Johnny Clegg died peacefully on Tuesday 16th of July surrounded by his family, Roddy Quin, Clegg’s manager, friend and spokesman said in a declaration.

Johnny Clegg, one of South Africa’s most celebrated sons, died on July 16.

His passing coincided with the Lunar Eclipse known as the “Thunder” Eclipse. He was 66-years-old.

Known as the “White Zulu” the artist rose to fame in the early 80’s and 80’s with his unique and majestic adaptation of the mbaganga, a traditional Zulu dance style. He incorporated Zulu rhythms and melodies with pop and folk style with African for more than 4 decades.

 Johnny Clegg, also know as the ‘White Zulu’. (Tsheko Kabasia )

“He will be remembered for not only his music but for his gentle spirit and humility and his deep love for his country and all it’s people. He showed South Africans what it was to assimilate to another culture and to embrace it without losing one’s identity.

Clegg was a strong voice in the fight against apartheid, the segregationist system in effect until 1994 in South Africa . 

Its flagship title, Asimbonanga (“We did not see it” in Zulu), released in 1987, was dedicated to Nelson Mandela, the head of the African National Congress (ANC) then imprisoned in Robben Island (South Africa).

Clegg’s passing comes just before Nelson Mandela’s birthday which is celebrated by all South Africans every year on July 18 with 67 minutes of community service.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, released after 27 years imprisonment in February 1990, even joined the musician on stage in Frankfurt (Germany) in 1999.

Mandela, who had invited himself on stage without warning, had said at the end of the song ” It’s music and dance that puts me at peace with the world .”

Mandela surprises Johnny Clegg at his concert in 1997

His song Scatterlings of Africa, released in 1982 with his band Juluka, propelled him into the charts in the UK and France. It was re-recorded in 1987 with its new band Savuka and used in the soundtrack of Rain Man . 


To get around censorship, he was forced to perform – with his group Juluka, formed with Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu – underground in universities, churches, and private homes.

” We had to do a thousand and one tricks to get around the myriad laws that prevented any interracial rapprochement ,” he told AFP in 2017.

Nevertheless, the intractable apartheid police banned some of his concerts and the singer was repeatedly arrested, accused of violating the laws on racial segregation. 

The white racist government also could not tolerate one of its people drawing inspiration from Zulu history and culture. Abroad, however, especially in France, Johnny Clegg quickly found an audience.

” People were very intrigued by our music, ” explained the singer and dancer, whose choreography with legs up and hammering the floor was his trademark. 

After a remission of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in 2015, he embarked two years later on a farewell world tour that he had managed to honor all dates, the latest in 2018.

” I had a rewarding career in many ways (…) by getting people together through songs, especially at a time when it seemed completely impossible, ” said the musician who sold more than 5 million albums. 

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