From Our Archives: Lala ngoxolo Johnny Clegg

Johnny Clegg. Picture: Herman Verwey/Rapport/Archives/Media24
Johnny Clegg. Picture: Herman Verwey/Rapport/Archives/Media24

Jonathan (Johnny) Clegg, OBE OIS died of pancreatic cancer on Tuesday afternoon at his home in Johannesburg.

The 66-year-old music legend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 but, despite it, still continued to perform until early last year with The Final Journey tour.

Born on June 7 1953 in Lancashire, England, Clegg and his mother moved to Johannesburg when he was six.

At the age of 17, he and Sipho Mchunu formed their first band Juluka, while at the age of 33 he formed a second band with Dudu Zulu called Savuka.

Clegg was also an anthropologist and had lecturing stints at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal respectively.

I’m more than a Zulu. I’m a South African. The Zulu experience helped me develop an African identity
Johnny Clegg

Internationally renowned and celebrated, Clegg sold out all over the world and managed to attract the ire of the apartheid goverment who arrested him many times.

Clegg’s sentimental tribute to Nelson Mandela - Asimbonanga - pulls at the heartstrings and is delivered powerfully. With its memorable words, it became the soundtrack following Mandela’s passing the world over.

It was also arguably the most popular song about Mandela during the cultural boycott that gripped South Africa under apartheid.

Watch as Clegg peforms Asimbonanga and Mandela joins in:

Clegg was awarded with a Knight of Arts and Letters by France in 1991 and in 2015 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth.

Clegg told City Press at the the time: “When I received the call a few weeks ago that I was awarded an OBE, I couldn’t believe it. I sat down and took a moment to let it sink in”.

READ: 'White Zulu' earns British award

Clegg was also awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his contibution to the arts in South Africa in 2012.

That year he was one of City Press’ newsmakers and the The White Zulu sat down with us to reflect on his life, career and legacy.

“I’m more than a Zulu. I’m a South African. The Zulu experience helped me develop an African identity,” he said at the time, constantly regailing us with one great story after another.

READ: The newsmaker interview with Clegg here

Last year City Press took a look at South Africa’s most iconic album art and #Trending rated Clegg and Mchunu’s 1979 album Juluka: Universal Man as one of those covers that shaped our audio landscape.

“It’s great that Juluka were not scared to challenge the oppressive regime in the most simple way possible; by just being together on the cover,” #Trending said.

READ: SA’s most iconic album art

In 2013 Clegg was again honoured by City Press as part of the feature 100 World Class South Africans.

At the time, ‘the agent of harmony’ was almost 60 and was still notching up firsts when he became the only South African solo act to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

READ: 100 World Class South Africans: Johnny Clegg

Clegg also used the immense platform he had to give back to the country he loved so much and provided him with the experiences and inspiration for his music and life.

In 2016 one of his performances was a special unplugged concert at Lebone II College outside Rustenburg, where all funds raised went to an education fund. This was also the first time he performed with a school choir and had just returned from a 40-date United States tour.

READ: School choir joins Johnny Clegg on stage 

In keeping with this spirit, Clegg’s family has asked “that donations be made to The Click Foundation instead of sending or laying flowers”.

The Click Foundation implements a digital English literacy programme in underprivileged primary schools across South Africa.

More details can be found here: Friend of Johnny Clegg

Clegg is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and their two sons Jesse and Jaron.

His family says his passing “has left us numb and we request that the family’s privacy be respected during this trying time”.

The family will hold a private funeral service while a public service will also be held, the details of which will be made available in due course.

Hamba kahle qhawe! Lala ngoxolo nsizwa yamabutho!


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