Johnny Clegg, a brother with a big heart – Sipho Mchunu

Legendary maskandi artist Sipho Mchunu. Picture Jabulani Langa
Legendary maskandi artist Sipho Mchunu. Picture Jabulani Langa

Juluka co-founder Sipho Mchunu says although Johnny Clegg was a musical icon to many, to him he was a brother with a big heart.

Although the two were “very close”, he said, the last time Mchunu spoke to Clegg was three months ago – because he was very ill and was unable to talk for long.

“We used to speak almost every day, but the last three months were the most difficult time for him and his family. His last words to me were: ‘I would love to speak to you, but unfortunately, I can’t any more. I am short of breath,’” Mchunu told City Press this week.

Mchunu said Clegg then suggested that he communicate with him via text message or by speaking to his wife, Jenny.

“It just broke me that I was not going to communicate with my brother. It was hard, but still I made sure I texted him or spoke to his wife every day,” said the departed muso’s devastated friend of more than 20 years.

“He is the one who gave me a big break in my music career.”

Mchunu met Clegg in 1969 on the streets of Yeoville, Johannesburg. He was singing maskandi and playing guitar when Clegg heard him and fell in love with his voice, and asked Mchunu to teach him.

“At that time, it was still taboo to be seen as a black person interacting with a white person. I was scared, but he assured me that nothing would happen to me. He asked me to accompany him to his home, so that he could introduce me to his mother. And since that day we were inseparable,” Mchunu recalls.

Although there was a language barrier between them, the two connected and Mchunu taught Clegg to speak isiZulu.

At the time Mchunu was working as a gardener, but he left his job after Clegg’s mother, a jazz singer, found the duo a record deal that changed his life.

Mchunu says Clegg was curious to learn about African culture and values, which made him a very different and unique musician.

Mchunu, who cannot read or write, says meeting Clegg was a blessing in disguise because he would be the one to negotiate and read their contracts.

“He never took advantage of me, even though I had no idea how to read and could not understand the clauses in the contract. We would share the money equally because he was not a greedy man. He valued me as a friend and business partner.”

Mchunu described Clegg as a humble man who changed many people’s lives.

One of the things Mchunu will miss about his late bandmate was his sense of humour.

“We did a lot of things together, like travelling. I have six wives and he helped me write a letter to one of my wives, because I cannot write or read. Through that letter, I won my wife’s heart,” he laughs.

Mchunu said that it was last year when Clegg told him he was doing his last tour abroad because he was tired and sick.

Mchunu added that even if he wanted to revive Juluka, this would never happen without Clegg.

“He was a talented human being and he had stage presence. I cannot perform without him,” he said.

Clegg’s manager and the family’s spokesperson, Roddy Quinn, said they knew that his disease would one day take its toll, but when it happened, they were unprepared for it.

Quinn said that Clegg had spent a few days in hospital before he died at his Johannesburg home. He described his friend as a man with a strong character and a sense of humour.

“He had retired from the music industry. He was spending time gardening and birding. The most important thing was his family. Imagine losing a powerful force; it’s a massive loss,” he said.

Asked how Clegg’s wife was coping, Quinn said she was taking things one day at a time.

Quinn said Clegg had almost finished writing his autobiography and had done so because he felt he had a good story to tell.

He said he was not sure when the book would be released.

“The release of his memoir will depend on his family, but the book will come out at some stage.”


All your favourite publications in one place.
Read now
Voting Booth
Do you think the ANC Gauteng integrity commission overreached in recommending that Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku should step down?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, he had a good case
14% - 8 votes
No, they’re taking on corruption
41% - 24 votes
Same old story
45% - 26 votes