Musician Johnny Clegg has died aged 66 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. Although his health was poor, Clegg had continued to perform live until recently. He felt he owed his fans a proper farewell, and for the past several months. He recently performed across the US, and in Canada, Dubai, and London.
The passing of this truly groundbreaking musician has already been greeted with an outpouring of grief by both South Africans and international admirers.
“It is with immense sadness that we confirm that Jonathan (Johnny) Clegg […] succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 66 on the afternoon of 16 July 2019 at his family home in Johannesburg, South Africa,” read a statement from Clegg’s manager Roddy Quin on Tuesday night.
Tributes immediately began to pour in for Clegg both locally and internationally. Clegg had a devoted fan following in France, where Le Zoulou Blanc (the white Zulu) performed to sold-out stadiums.
But in South Africa there is already a particularly acute sense of grief at the passing of a man described by many as providing the soundtrack of national life.
“A towering giant has fallen with the passing of legendary singer-songwriter and anthropologist Johnny Clegg,” tweeted Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa.
“Our hearts are sore and as he famously sang in Asimbonanga, ‘oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey’ as we contend with the loss of a torchbearer of our struggle for freedom.”
South African politicians of all stripes joined the chorus of grief.
GOOD party leader Patricia de Lille described Clegg as a “cultural legend who transcended race to shine a bright ray of light and hope from apartheid South Africa”.
Clegg “wrote our South African story when our country was at its worst and its best”, tweeted the DA’s Mmusi Maimane.
International media outlets also carried Clegg’s death as breaking news. America’s National Public Radio (NPR) called Clegg “one of South Africa’s most creative and outspoken cultural figures”.
Clegg leaves behind his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and sons Jesse and Jaron.
“His passing has left us numb and we request that the family’s privacy be respected during this trying time,” Clegg’s manager wrote.
Although calls are already mounting for Clegg to be honoured with a state funeral, Quin indicated that the musician’s family will be holding a private service.
“There will be a service for (the) public to pay their respects and the details hereof will be announced in due course,” Quin said.
Rebecca Davis I Daily Maverick