For many of us who were privileged to have been born at the tail end of apartheid, Johnny Clegg was that famous musician whose music continues to roar at the stadiums mostly at rugby matches.
However, as it is often said, there is always a man behind the music. And Johnny Clegg was a man whose conviction, cultural activism, strong identity, and powerful songs during the dark period of this country earned him the legendary status across all racial groups throughout the world.
In this evocative memoir titled after his legendary song, Scatterling of Africa, Johnny- who pieced together this writing before his death, recounts his early life in Johannesburg before his global stardom, where he had to mostly negotiate with the iniquitous apartheid system to cave his own identity, friendship, and his musical career with people that system reduced into second class citizens.
Now, I was born late when Johnny Clegg was already a global superstar, and got to listen to some of his songs such Impi in rugby matches mostly.
However, perusing through the pages of this book gave me a proper background about who was this man, the sacrifices and challenges he had to face to become the global star that he was.
Most importantly, it is Johnny’s courageous story inside the pages of this book that has made me realize that we, and I mean particularly us South Africans, have not even started to celebrate this man and what he did for us.
Johnny, like so many white people in SA during apartheid could have easily went on with his life and enjoyed the unearned privileges that many enjoyed during apartheid.
But not Mandlebe as Johnny was affectionately known. He not only rejected that racial system and its benefits, but did everything in his power- consciously and unconsciously, to do the opposite of what the system aimed to achieve.
He showed the world that he believed in humanity and oneness and that is thoroughly reflected in the pages of this book.
This is a man who was born in England, and could have easily moved there to enjoy a ‘normal life’, but he stayed in SA and built relationships with people who some would have looked down on, because these were uneducated migrants, who could not write nor read, while Johnny was a Wits graduate and lecturer at that.
This book is a true testament of a man that was Johnny Clegg. A selfless, good-hearted soul and overall amazing human being, who through his love for music, not only discovered his true identity, but showed the world that there’s just one race, THE HUMAN RACE.
If you love songs such the crossing/osiyeza, and like me you did not know that it was a song written by Johnny, then this is a book that will introduce you to this great man and his love for people and their culture.
I think some readers will obviously be disappointed that there are certain elements that are missing in the book, particular Johnny’s glorious career life with Juluka and Savuka as the book just touched the surface on that, but that is because he sadly could not finish writing this book after he lost battle with cancer. For those who had thought that Johnny used the Zulu culture to build his career and enrich himself, this book is a full proof that the Zulu culture chose him than the other way round.
Besides that, Scatterling of Africa is wonderfully written memoir of a man who stood the test of time and emerged to be a modern hero.