In a final interview Johnny Clegg spoke about the challenges of completing his memoir

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Musician Johnny Clegg on location for his 21 Icons portrait shoot at Cradle of Humankind, Sterkfontein. (Photo by Gary Van Wyk/Ginko Agency/ www.21Icons.com via Getty Images)
Musician Johnny Clegg on location for his 21 Icons portrait shoot at Cradle of Humankind, Sterkfontein. (Photo by Gary Van Wyk/Ginko Agency/ www.21Icons.com via Getty Images)
  • Johnny Clegg was a South African singer-songwriter, poet, anthropologist and anti-apartheid activist.
  • He died in 2019. On 11 December 2018, Channel24 published what would be one of the artist's final interviews.
  • During the interview, he spoke about the challenges that came with writing his recently published autobiography, Scatterling of Africa: My Early Years


Johnny Clegg was a South African singer-songwriter, poet, anthropologist and anti-apartheid activist. Through the ethnomusicology that comes with being the son of a jazz musician, Clegg’s childhood was spent unknowingly studying South African genres. At 14, Clegg met Charlie Mzila who began teaching him how to play maskandi chords on a guitar. Then in 1969, aged 16, he encountered Sipho Mchunu’s take on maskandi. The following year, they formed Juluka. 

READ MORE | Music amplifies hope — seven key quotes from Johnny Clegg’s memoir

A trained anthropologist, Clegg spent twelve years in academics. While working at Wits and promoting Juluka's fourth album, Scatterlings of Africa made it on to the Top 40 charts in the United Kingdom. Faced with the decision of whether to continue juggling two careers or to become a full time musician, Clegg chose music and never looked back. 

From performing in liminal spaces, away from apartheid’s prohibition, to world stages, the rest of Clegg’s life was spent offering South Africa a vision of hope. He died on 16 July 2019 in the care of his family at his home in Johannesburg. 

On 11 December 2018, Channel24 published what would be one of the artist's final interviews. During the interview, Alex Isaacs spoke to Clegg about his battle with cancer, his legacy, and writing his recently published autobiography, Scatterling of Africa: My Early Years. 

READ MORE | Johnny Clegg on that moving viral video, his upcoming autobiography, and his health

At the time of the interview, Clegg had completed "about 150 pages" of the book and was "about halfway done". While writing, Clegg was forced pause the book's progress because he needed to interview old bandmates who were no longer in the country. In addition to that, the record company in England that signed him in 1983 no longer existed. Getting those nuggets of "very torturous moments" in his career would require him to travel at a time his health disallowed it. 

Giving Isaacs insight into what the book would focus on, Clegg had the following to say: 

"It was during the time of the cultural boycott and South African bands were basically prohibited from touring internationally. So, we had to deal with the anti-apartheid movement and we had to deal with the British Musicians' Union and it became a huge story.

"There are many layers to the book and other than having to struggle through apartheid, through the Group Areas Act, through the global segregation and not being able to perform in public (as a non-racial band). There was also having to find holes in the system from playing private venues to churches; we also played in people's lounges and at private school halls. Many embassies during the seventies and eighties had these little cultural events where fifty or sixty people came, and we were the requested group. We started to find ways to perform... All of those stories are in there."

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