Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. Picture: Facebook
Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo. Picture: Facebook

Tributes stream in for music giant Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo

By Kedibone Modise Time of article published Jun 23, 2021

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South African choral music giant and composer Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo has died. He had just turned 89 at the time.

The family spokesperson, Diliza Khumalo, confirmed the news on Tuesday. “It is with great sadness that the Khumalo family announces the passing of our believed father Professor Mzilikazi James Khumalo. He passed away in the early hours of this morning June 22, after a long illness,” read the statement.

Some of Khumalo’s accolades include being part of the committee that amalgamated “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika” with “Die Stem” to form the post-apartheid South African national anthem.

Tributes have been pouring in since the news of Khumalo’s passing broke on Tuesday.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, traditional prime minister to the Zulu monarch and nation, said Khumalo’s passing is a great loss to the nation.

“The past year has brought us far too many losses.

“We have grieved again and again; and now we are led to sorrow once more with the passing of the veteran South African composer, Professor Mzilikazi Khumalo.

“This is a terrible loss for our nation, for Prof Khumalo’s talent was in many ways unsurpassed,” said Buthelezi.

“Prof Khumalo will be remembered for having been asked by President Mandela to blend the three anthems into what is now South Africa’s national anthem … Moreover, his oratorio on ’King Shaka kaSenzangakhona’ was a remarkable composition.

“But for me, his greatest achievement was in composing the first African opera which was performed to such acclaim that it was invited to Europe and the United States,” said Buthelezi.

“That opera was based on the life of my mother, Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu, who was a singer and composer of international renown.

“Prof Khumalo skilfully adapted my mother’s songs to be sung to the accompaniment of an orchestra. The role of Princess Magogo was performed by our late songbird, Dr Sibongile Khumalo, whom we lost just months ago.”

Bongani Tembe, chief executive and artistic director of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra, hailed Khumalo as one of the most talented composers in the land.

“I am so delighted that the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra played his music more often than any other institution in South Africa.

“We performed ’uShaka KaSenzangakhona’ so many times and we also premiered his opera, the first Zulu opera, ’Princess Magogo kaDinuzulu’.

“We were very proud of him and his work. May his soul rest in peace. Condolences to his dear family,” said Tembe in a statement.

Nhlanhla Sibisi, CEO of the Recording Industry of South Africa, said the organisation iwas saddened by the passing of Khumalo.

“The passing away of Professor Khumalo is a serious loss to the music industry. He was a repository of knowledge and a well of information when it comes to African folklore, musicality and choral music.

“He lived a long and beautiful life and gave his country a great songbook, that includes a national anthem, we can be proud of.

“We send our condolences to the Khumalo family, the choral music community, colleagues and fans of this iconic son of the soil.”

Khumalo was born on the farm KwaNgwelu in Natal on June 20 1932. After completing Matric, Khumalo enrolled at the teachers' training college in Mamelodi.

He later bachelor's degree with majors in English and Zulu in 1956 from the University of South Africa.

He graduated with a masters degree from Wits, and went on to obtain a PhD at the same institution in 1988.

His musical career took off in 1959 where he composed, “Ma Ngificwa Ukufa”. Among his most revered work is the cantata “uShaka KaSenzangakhona” which narrates the story of Shaka, the king of Amazulu.

Khumalo on behalf of the family has requested privacy to mourn his passing.

“Our father was a celebrated composer and custodian of choral and traditional music, we will therefore be celebrating his legacy,” commented Khumalo.

The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) also paid tribute to South African music composer extraordinaire.

“SAMRO was privileged to have Prof Khumalo on its board as vice-chairperson from 1993 to 2009," said Nicholas Maweni, Chairperson of SAMRO

Khumalo was the only non-executive board member that had an office at SAMRO until he completed his term. He also has the distinction of being the chairperson of the committee for the National Anthem of South Africa in 1995.

“Prof Khumalo was a long-standing member of SAMRO and was a core committee member of the SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts," added Maweni.

Khumalo was responsible for the editing and production of the three SA Sings books of South African choral music notated in sol-fa and Western staff notation to promote and preserve "our choral heritage".

Professor Khumalo is remembered as a Pan Africanist who was passionate about his music and choirs. Many students benefited from the SAMRO/Mzilikazi Khumalo Bursary for Indigenous African Music Research.

“As we mourn his passing, we must continue to celebrate his life and his achievements and we will continue to honour, preserve and promote Professor Khumalo’s legacy through the work of the SAMRO Music Archive,” expressed Maweni.

Funeral details are yet to be announced.

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