Bongani Masuku, a longstanding vocalist with the hugely popular South African Johnny Clegg Band was murdered in Johannesburg, Gauteng at the weekend. The band had just returned from a 67-day tour of North America where they performed 45 shows.
Clegg (above left) posted a short notice on his website and Facebook page yesterday stating that it was “with shock, anger and deep felt sadness” that the Johnny Clegg Band was mourning the “violent killing” of their “beloved” Bongani Masuku (above right). He was “a stalwart performer” as well as being a “hardworking musician and good friend,” said Clegg.
We will miss him deeply and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and all who knew him. Johnny Clegg Band
Masuku and a friend were accosted by four men after he had parked his car in Princess Street, Troyeville, a rundown suburb on the outskirts of Johannesburg’s crumbling inner city. The men demanded the car keys and a cell phone before several shots were fired, hitting Masuku in the torso. It is believed that the men then escaped the crime scene in a minibus taxi. Masuku was able to drive to the Troyville Fire Station, but collapsed and died before anything could be done to help him. His friend was not injured, and no arrests have been made.
This is the second Clegg musician to have been murdered. In May 1992 percussionist Dudu Mntowaziwayo Ndlovu, a close friend and former member of Clegg’s previous band, Savuka, was shot and killed outside his home in KwaZulu-Natal. The assassination was said to have been related to a taxi war conspiracy, but the killers were never caught. Clegg wrote The Crossing (Osiyeza), which he performs in the music video below, in memory of Ndlovu who was just 35 years old at the time of his death. Like Ndlovu, Masuku was from KwaZulu-Natal and both men were Zulus.
Clegg, who was born in Lancashire in the United Kingdom in 1953, lived in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) with his mother, a singer, until he was seven and they moved to South Africa. His stepfather was a crime reporter who took him into the black townships during the Apartheid era, exposing him to a life many white people in the country at the time had no experience of.
Ironically, Clegg, who studied and then lectured anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, was deeply influenced by Rhodesian-born David Webster who also lectured at Wits, and who was assassinated in Troyeville in May 1989. An anti-Apartheid activist, Webster was gunned down by hit man Ferdi Barnard, who was convicted of the killing in 1998 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is still in jail.
Known as the White Zulu, Clegg carved his own solid niche in the South African music industry, blending so-called European melodies with traditional Zulu music. Even though mixed bands were censored by local radio at the time, a passionate South African record producer, Hilton Rosenthal signed up Clegg and his Zulu songwriting and performing partner, Sipho Mchunu, and Juluka (the Zulu word for sweat) was born. In addition to the radio ban, South Africa’s notorious Group Areas Act disallowed performances in public places, and so they played at private homes, at universities, in church halls, and even in the hostels established to house migrant workers. Many of their shows were shut down, but they persisted and quickly had a substantial following, largely of migrant workers and students across the color bar. Their first album, Universal Men, released in 1979 was a musical journey that told the story of Zulu migrant workers that lived and worked in the city (primarily in the mines of Gauteng), but regularly went home to a totally different rural life in the country.
When Mchunu decided to return to his roots and farm cattle in KwaZulu-Natal (in what was then known as Zululand) Clegg formed Savuka (meaning “we have risen”) aiming to mix traditional African music with more international rock music. Bongani Masuku joined Savuka in 1992, the same year Ndlovu was murdered, and had been part of the Johnny Clegg Band as a backing vocalist since its formation until he was so brutally murdered on Saturday May 17, 2014.
By Penny Swift