Observations · People

On Johnny Clegg and why we should all want to be the white Zulu

Johnny Clegg, legendary South African musician known as ‘The White Zulu’ died at the age of 66. Everyone loved him because of his passion for South African tribal music and dance, and his love for Zulu culture, which he absorbed growing up in the streets of Joburg, mingling with witch doctors, street musicians and migrant workers, in a time when ‘black and white’ were words that weren’t even allowed to be in the same sentence. His song lyrics spoke toward freedom and celebrated the true, gritty beauty of Africa, when it was not legal nor fashionable to love anything about it.

My husband however, is not moved to hear this ‘spirit of the great heart’s’ passing. He is trying to convince me that his music did not represent the real Africa and that kwaito music, for example, was. Of course, this is nonsense, you can’t compare them really; Kwaito music originated in the early 90s while Juluka dropped their first album in 1976. Different time, different space, different opportunities.

I wondered why my husband would dislike Johnny Clegg. I mean he’s always been quite an objective guy, he’s hardly ever emotional. He loves kwaito and some contemporary South African music. His current ringtone is ‘Caracara’ by South African hip hop artist K.O. He supports all the South African sports teams. I imagine he loves his country just as much as Johnny does.

I thought about his background. Unlike me, he grew up in apartheid South Africa, specifically in the Western Cape, so I can imagine that perhaps he didn’t hang out with too many liberals. That is to say, I believe he wasn’t hanging out with blatant racists either, but perhaps the struggle music that was quietly played behind closed doors perhaps didn’t quite reach his young ears in the leafy, white suburbs of Cape Town. Still, it doesn’t explain why he would hate Johnny Clegg’s music. Because if you have ever lived here, you just can’t not know it at all. Everyone has heard it and every South African knows it. And as far as I know, every South African, apart from my husband, loves it!

I’m baffled. This from the same guy who said that he blamed the older white generations for the mess the country is in now. That their selfish attitude and separatist agenda has left no room for a future for everyone to prosper here. That they caused the extreme divides and poverty and messed up status quo. That they should be ashamed of themselves.

So what was it then?

I receive a message from him an hour later. Clearly he’s also been thinking about it. It reads:

“Maybe I’m just jealous.”

“Maybe I wanted to be the white Zulu…”

And then it all made perfect sense.

5 thoughts on “On Johnny Clegg and why we should all want to be the white Zulu

    1. When we lived in Switzerland, we played a lot of Johnny Clegg music! We were homesick for South Africa. My son Robert decided one day that he was a Zulu and went to school bare feet! He refused to even wear the classroom slippers. Needless to say his “carnet de class“ was full of red writing!!
      When I asked him why, he said that his Daddy never wore shoes at home, so why should he!! He wanted to be a Zulu!!
      Lou suffered from bunions and we weren’t very Swiss. The SWISS take off their shoes and leave them behind the entrance door and wear slippers!
      Some slippers looked like they were made from army blankets! As you shuffled along, you actually cleaned the floor!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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