Johnny Clegg, anti-apartheid activist and musician, dies aged 66

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Johnny Clegg, anti-apartheid activist and musician, dies aged 66

Clegg was one of South Africa’s most celebrated musicians; known as the “White Zulu” for his strident criticism of the apartheid government and his blend of Western and Zulu music. Quin wrote that “Johnny leaves deep foot prints in the hearts of every person that considers him/herself to be an African. He showed us what it was to assimilate to and embrace other cultures without losing your identity. With his unique style of music he traversed cultural barriers like few others. In many of us he awakened awareness”.


A private service will be held for Clegg, though Quin says there will be an additional public service with details in due course. Clegg is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny Clegg, and his two sons Jesse and Jaron Clegg.



Clegg was born in Bacup, England in 1953 before moving to South Africa at age 6. He broke racial barriers with his music by learning to speak and sing in Zulu  – something Quin attributes to his exposure to Zulu migrant workers in adolescence. Clegg defied apartheid rule to study Zulu-style song and dance, thus breaking segregation law of the time. His first group was Juluku, who blended Celtic stylings with Zulu music. They were subject to censorship, as with all of Clegg’s music until the end of apartheid rule in 1994. Most will know Clegg’s biggest hit ‘Asimbonanga’ with his second group, Savuka. The track was dedicated to Nelson Mandela, and became an anti-apartheid anthem. The title translates from Zulu to English as “We’ve never seen him”, referring to the banning of pictures of Nelson Mandela. 


Clegg got to tour one last time in 2017, embarking on what he called “The Final Journey” across the world.  Tributes from around the world have come in on Twitter, with none perhaps so poignant as the South African government’s.



Pay tribute in your own way to Johnny Clegg today.