Watch Johnny Clegg’s ode to Nelson Mandela ‘Asimbonanga’


This post has been updated. See note below for details.

Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress leader and longtime political prisoner who became president of South Africa after the dismantling of the apartheid system that had jailed him for more than 27 years, has died at 95 years old.

Mandela was a lightning rod for the artistic community at home and around the world.


One of the many musical homages to Mandela while he was imprisoned came from South African musician Johnny Clegg, who formed the first integrated rock band in that country in the 1970s and courted jail time himself for collaborating with black musicians in his adopted homeland.

FULL COVERAGE: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

His elegiac song “Asimbonanga (Mandela),” from his 1987 “Third World Child” album with his band Savuka, mixed English verses with choruses sung in Zulu. It noted that Mandela was nowhere to be seen at that time and also name-checked political prisoners Steven Biko (the subject of Peter Gabriel’s 1980 song “Biko”) Victoria Mxenge and Neil Aggett.

Sample lyric:

A sea gull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me

After he was released from prison in 1990, Mandela appeared at a performance Clegg gave in France in 1999. Above is the video from that concert.

Update Friday, Dec. 6 at 7:56 a.m.: Clegg issued the following statement late Friday:

“My family and I send our condolences to all the Mandela family members on the passing of Tata. We also share with all South Africans and the global community our sense of loss and sadness at his passing.

“Nelson Mandela will always define a deep part of what and who are as individuals and as a nation. It is difficult to separate the great journey to secure a democratic and non-racial South Africa from his personal qualities and character. For all South Africans he was the face and form of that voyage, particularly in the crucial decade of 1990 – 2000.

“In the defining and tempestuous years of 1990 through to April 27th 1994 his leadership never gave the impression that he was overwhelmed by events, even in the darkest hours of Boipatong and other atrocities that were meant to derail the negotiations. When at times we felt doubt or fear, his strong resonant voice rolled out over the radio or TV and, like a tide going out, our reservations about the future receded.

“We took immense nourishment and succor from his fearless and positive attitude. His charismatic openness, straight aim, direct but respectful communication with his opponents was a singularly rare quality in a time of racist and right wing demagoguery.

“A country in turmoil needs to feel that the Ship of State, riding the storm, is in good hands and he never gave us cause to doubt that the storm would pass and the country would be free. It is the qualities of tolerance and forgiveness however which stand out as his lasting legacy as well as the way he used these to unite the country both during and after his presidency.

“With all our fellow south Africans we acknowledge with deep gratitude the debt we owe to this Man from Qunu, who bequeathed us this great country of promise. Today, although we grieve, we also proudly rejoice in his remarkable life, which we were privileged to share through extraordinary times.


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Twitter: @RandyLewis2