Tweeps pay tribute to Johnny Clegg who battled apartheid with music
Tweeps pay tribute to Johnny Clegg who battled apartheid with music Image Credit: Twitter

His music challenged racism and he was an emblem of resistance to apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa.

On Tuesday, Twitter users took to the micro-blogging site to mourn and pay tributes to South African singer and songwriter Johnny Clegg, after news of his death spread.

Clegg was one of the few white artists to openly confront the apartheid government in the late 1970s and 1980s. On July 16, Clegg succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 66, four years after being diagnosed.

Fans and industry friends took to social media to mourn and pay tribute to the legend with the hashtag #RIPJohnnyClegg.

Tweep @LesDaChef posted: “Waking up to the news about Johnny Clegg.... One of the few genuinely humble and approachable superstars I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Thank you for the music and beautiful memories. You’ve made your final crossing. #RIPJohnnyClegg”

@therealBAPS added: “Johnny Clegg was always on replay in my dad’s car on those long drives to the farm! Africa has lost a legend.”

“Thank you for the music”

Clegg battled apartheid with music. He created two multi-racial bands in defiance of the segregationist laws of the apartheid-era government. As part of the bands Juluka (“Sweat” in the isiZulu language) and Savuka (“We have risen”) and as a solo artist, Clegg’s songs and performances resonated through South Africa’s long struggle against racial separation.

@UThandoKayise posted: “Thank you for the music. Thank you for your character. Thank you for keeping our touch burning bright even through the darkness. Thank you, Sir. RIP Johnny Clegg.”

In an interview with news agency AFP (Agence France-Presse) in 2017, Clegg said: “We had to find our way around a myriad of laws that prevented us from mixing across racial lines.”

Twitter user @MbalulaFikile: “His music is amongst the soundtracks of the birth of a new nation, bonded together by a common vision of a non-racial, non-sexist, free and united society. We salute one of the great sons of our soil, #JohnnyClegg - May his soul RIP. Thank you for the music.”

@BenEmmerich added: “RIP Johnny Clegg! What a legend, what an incredible human he was, what a loss. We will always remember you, thank you for the music!”

The White Zulu

Clegg spent his teenage years in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg where he encountered the city’s Zulu migrant workers and learnt their music and dance.

According to the Wits University website, where Clegg was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2007: “Under the tutelage of Charlie Mzila, a flat cleaner by day and musician by night, Clegg mastered both the Zulu language, the maskandi guitar and the isishameni dance styles of the migrants while still in his mid-teens. Through these, he also gained a profound understanding of Zulu culture, as his songs attest.”

Often referred to as “the White Zulu”, he was known for his spectacular onstage enactment of high-kicking Zulu war dances and stick fighting.

Tweep @acekicker77 posted: “Rest in peace #WhiteZulu. The drum of your heart will beat on for eternity. True African hero #JohnnyClegg.”

According to a New York Times article: “It was a nickname he said he loathed, but it nonetheless reflected the racial contortions and obsessions of South Africa both before and after the elections in 1994, which brought Mandela to power as the country’s first black president after his release from prison in 1990.”


One of the most popular songs by Clegg was “Asimbonanga”, which means “We’ve never seen him” in Zulu. It refers to the South Africans during apartheid when images of their then-imprisoned leader Nelson Mandela were banned. The song was outlawed but became an international anthem for the struggle against apartheid and for modern South Africa.

Tweep @Ramathunyane posted: “Years later after being sold the concept of freedom for all and how racial divisions and inequalities are still a thing ‘Asimbonanga’ by #JonnyClegg still evokes such heavy emotions. Literally holding back the tears...”

Tributes pour in

Tweep @Luvbird4eva posted: “Johnny Clegg didn’t just touch South Africa with his music but the whole of Africa. His music gave you that pride of being an African. The great Lion has fallen indeed.ߘ?#RIPJohnnyClegg”