OBE for South African legend Johnny Clegg

15 June 2014

Johnny Clegg, the South African artist, activist and philanthropist fondly known as the “White Zulu”, had been honoured with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Buckingham Palace announced on Saturday.

“I had no idea; it came out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning,” Clegg said when he spoke to John Robbie, the presenter on talk station Radio 702.

“This is a recognition of Johnny’s unique services to the arts, vulnerable people and children and to democracy in South Africa,” said the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith Macgregor. “I am particularly pleased that we are able to celebrate his achievements of the past three decades.

“We continue to work with Johnny and others to ensure that the positive change that they have secured will continue to have long-lasting impact on generations to come.”

Clegg will travel to the United Kingdom to receive his OBE at a date yet to be confirmed. He hopes he can coincide it with his 20-show tour of France in October.

Music and activism

Clegg said receiving the honour was a tremendous moment. “It has been a long journey of more than 30 years, from when I first began to experiment with truly South African cross-over music, and at the same time becoming a cultural activist in the struggle against apartheid,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

During apartheid, his music was banned and restricted on national radio and police closed some of his shows.

The OBE revitalised his energy for activism, he said. “Having worked with the End Conscription Campaign, the trade union movement and the Free the Children in Detention Campaign, resisting forced removals of rural communities, this award re- energises those dreams and commitments in a very special way.”

Scatterling of Africa

Clegg was born in England, but emigrated with his family when he was six months old. They settled initially in Zimbabwe, then spent a short time in Zambia before finally moving to South Africa. Robbie described Clegg as a Southern African Development Community child.

“Between his mother (a cabaret and jazz singer) and his step-father (a crime reporter) who took him into the townships at an early age, Johnny was exposed to a broader cultural perspective than that available to his peers,” reads his website biography.

With bands Juluka and Savuka, he merged traditional South African sounds with pop music and created a sensation. “Whilst lecturing anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Clegg worked on the concept of blending English lyrics and Western melodies with Zulu musical structures.”

The OBE

The OBE was created by George V in 1917 during World War 1, to recognise “distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the civil service and work with charitable and welfare organisations of all kinds”.

Citizens from all over the world are able to receive the award; there are more than 100 000 living members of the order scattered around the globe.

SAinfo reporter