SAFTU lowers its revolutionary banners to salute one of the colossal icons of South Africa’s cultural activism of all time, Johnny Clegg. For many decades, Johnny Clegg was the voice of the voiceless.
This legend and icon used culture to unite his people that were so divided by those who believed they were superior to others. From an early age, Johnny Clegg became a champion and symbol of the freedom struggle in South Africa. He was perhaps one of the few cultural activists who could break the walls of divisions and prejudices between different racial and tribal groups. He used his talents to inspire generations to fight against injustices and here and abroad.
Activists like Johnny Clegg, including other icons such as PJ Powers, defied the very logic of racial segregation. Johnny Clegg defiance against the apartheid logic was breath taking and heroic. During the darkest days of apartheid, it was not a familiar sight to see a white person in the then Blacks Only townships.
The apartheid regime was ruthless in enforcing the Separate Amenities Act, Influx Controls and migrant labour policies. These laws and policies were all designed to keep blacks and whites not only apart but also living far from one another. Black people were meant only to visit white suburbs as workers in prescribed hours. The Whites folks were not allowed to visit Black residential areas unless they were law apartheid law enforcers
It is this defiance against apartheid that made Johnny engrained Johnny Clegg to the hearts of black people and every other Peace loving South Africans. Black people, in particular, admired him for reaching out to them by learning their languages, dancing with them and during the hard times of massacres mourning with them. But more importantly he not only mingled easily with townships but also was a regular sight in the single sex hostels of migrant workers.
Johnny Clegg fluent articulation and mastering of Zulu language forced even Black other people to learn isiZulu and each other’s languages.
SAFTU salute Johnny Clegg as the champion of non-racialism. At the time when it was difficult to convince black people that non-racialism was the only viable future for our diverse society, he like a sore thumb stood firm to demonstrate that people can live with one another in harmony.
He together with the likes of Joe Slovo, Bayers Naude, Bram Fischer, etc. was prepared to forgo their inherited privileges and comforts to put their own lives at risk in a common struggle to defeat the evil apartheid system. This served as an important education weapon to remind black people that not all whites were racist and evil. If there was to be an award to be given to people who helped South Africa avert a civil war and racial strife Johnny Clegg would be one of the first to receive it.
Through music, he united all the people of the world broke down language, culture, and geographical locations barriers. He is a symbol of national cohesion that South Africa still needs to attain fully.
Johnny Clegg defiantly not only performed but also stayed in the townships and undermined the apartheid influx controls, including the curfews imposed during the era of the state of the emergencies.
In the process, he learnt the Zulu language, which he could speak more than many Nguni speakers could master. He danced better than many people from rural areas. He never saw black people as a market. Johnny Clegg was a shining example of what a humanitarian is, what a normal human being is, what a person fighting for justice is, what a freedom fighter is.
It is no exaggeration to say South Africa, and indeed the world is poor today without Johnny Clegg. We call on all the people to honour him in a special way as we celebrate the 101 birthday of another great icon, Nelson Mandela. His legacy must be used to reinforce the centrality of a message that there is only one human race. The racial and tribal chauvinism must be buried here in South African and the rest of the world. That how Johnny Clegg would like to be remembered.
SAFTU wishes Johnny’s wife, children and the entire family strength at this difficult time as they prepare to bid farewell to our icon. We also send our deepest condolences to his lifetime friends and colleagues such as Sipho Mchunu and countless others in the music industry. We call on all workers to honour him by buying his music to remind them of what he represented.
Farewell to you dearest citizen of the world. You played your role and have we had no complaints.
Rest in Peace Qhawe lama Qhawe!
Statement issued on behalf of SAFTU