Singer-songwriter who used music to defy apartheid in South Africa
Johnny Clegg, who has died of cancer aged 66, was a white singer-songwriter who became a national hero in South Africa by using music to defy the apartheid-era segregation laws. He challenged the authorities by forming mixed-race bands, performing to both black and white audiences, and mixing Zulu influences into songs that brought him international success. Known as the white Zulu or umlungu omnyama (the black white person), he spoke fluent Zulu and was an energetic and skilful exponent of Zulu dance.
He was best known for the poignant, stirring 1987 anthem Asimbonanga (We have not seen him), a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who was then still in jail, and to other key figures of the anti-apartheid struggle. Twelve years later, soon after he stepped down as president, Mandela joined Clegg on stage in Frankfurt as he was performing the song, in one of the most emotional scenes in political pop history.
Clegg enjoyed a lengthy, successful and highly unusual career. He was born in Bacup, Lancashire, to an English father, Dennis Clegg, and a Rhodesian mother, Muriel, a jazz singer from a Lithuanian Jewish family. They divorced while Johnny was still an infant and his mother moved to Rhodesia, Israel and Zambia before settling in South Africa. Muriel married Dan Pienaar, a journalist, and though the marriage ended when Johnny was 12, his stepfather had by then already taken him to meet migrant Zulu workers in segregated black townships rarely visited by white people.
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