WHITE ZULU: Johnny Clegg. Picture: Tsheko Kabasia
WHITE ZULU: Johnny Clegg. Picture: Tsheko Kabasia

White boys dancing with ties on their heads at weddings, black South Africans impressed by his idiomatic Zulu, French fans who flocked to their local venues to see Le Zoulou Blanc — Johnny Clegg was loved by just about everyone.

The 66-year-old musician passed away this week after a long fight with pancreatic cancer. The country knew it was coming. He’d spent the last few years on a final tour celebrating his long career, but his death prompted an outpouring of love and thanks across social media and news sites.

A Joburg boy, Clegg learnt maskandi guitar and isishameni dance from migrant workers on the rooftops of the racially segregated apartment blocks of the apartheid-era city.

It’s no surprise that Clegg studied anthropology before making singing a full-time gig. Watching a performance with Clegg and his bands, Juluka and Savuka, was an anthropological journey in itself — a vibrant tour of SA culture, music, instruments and dance.

His music went a long way to bridging racial divides in SA, especially during the fraught 1980s and 1990s. He got everyone up and dancing, including Nelson Mandela. And in his final years, he spent time campaigning to raise money for primary school literacy programmes. The country has lost one of its great unifiers.

South African music icon Johnny Clegg died on July 16 2019. Referred to as the ‘white Zulu’, the singer-songwriter died from pancreatic cancer.