While the country mourned Johnny Clegg, the man who was fondly known as the White Zulu, his colleague, Sipho Mchunu, was still coming to terms with the loss of the friend he met in 1969.
Mchunu, who described Clegg as the most prolific musician to ever walk the earth and a great person who touched many lives, said the friendship they had and the bond they forged transcended the country’s segregation laws and stood strong for five decades.
The pair met shortly after Mchunu’s arrival in Joburg in search of employment. Mchunu recalls bumping into the young Clegg and his fascination with the music Mchunu was playing so much that he expressed an interest to learn to play the guitar like he did.
“I can still see his excited face when he invited me into his home for his mother to also hear me play the guitar. Of course I was terrified, wondering what this white guy was doing,” reminisced Mchunu. “What scared me the most that day was when he recorded me. I had never seen a recorder in my life, and as a rural boy, I was certain he was trying to turn me into a tokoloshe,” revealed Mchunu.
From that encounter Mchunu recognised Clegg’s interest in diverse cultures and his passion for music beyond race or one’s economic standings. “He just wanted to do music.”
Even the language barrier between them was never a problem for their friendship, and led to the formation of their band Juluka, which directly means sweat in isiZulu.
“We actually titled the band after one of my bulls in my kraal named Juluka. I worked really hard to raise that particular bull, and loved it so much. After relaying that story to Johnny on a trip back home in KZN, he was immediately moved and said we too shall be Juluka, because of how hard it took us to be where we were,” he said.
Mchunu said Clegg used music to unite the people of South Africa especially, and that was an example of the spirit of ubuntu.
“The loss of Johnny is felt across the world, and even at the lowest parts of society, like the hostels that I used to take him to. I remember how he was among my brothers in the hostel, when we ate out of one plate, you’d be sure to find Johnny digging in with us,” he added.
“I strongly believe, through all my interactions with that man, that his existence was God’s gift to mankind and something that can never ever be taken for granted. And he lived out his purpose, with a permanent smile on his face and enthusiasm. I was blessed to have met him”.