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Scatterling of Africa: my early years by Johnny Clegg

February 6, 2022

It’s hard to know how to sum up this amazing book. Johnny Clegg’s music with Sipho Mchunu in Juluka became an important part of my daily life in South Africa. I adored their vibrant mix of Western and Zulu songs and whenever I think of the years I spent in KwaZulu Natal, I cannot do so without hearing their albums in my head.

However, I didn’t know much about Johnny Clegg the man at that time. It was all about the music. I knew he was known as the White Zulu; I knew he’d courageously crossed the racial boundaries forbidden by law and I knew that Sipho Mchunu had done the same. They were a remarkable, creative act and fantastic musicians to boot. However, that was all I knew … then.

Over the years, I’ve been able to fill in some of the gaps, but it is only reading his posthumous memoir of his early years that I have gained a much deeper and broader knowledge of who he was and what drove him. Scatterling of Africa (derived from perhaps Juluka’s best known song) is a fascinating account of how Johnny came to cross the race divide and learn to play the music of the Zulu migrants in Johannesburg. He also learnt to dance with the Zulus and was accepted as a group member, performing at numerous migrant hostels and township locations as the only white dancer. No wonder the people loved him so.

What struck me most in reading this incredibly moving account was how open the young Johnny was to all new experiences and how lacking in any kind of prejudice, a gift probably inherited from his equally open and non-judgemental mother. Having turned her back on a conservative and traditional Jewish background herself, she never attempted to stop him or influence his direction or social life, so he was free to form friendships among the Zulu migrants without censure – at least, not from her. The social and cultural path he trod did, of course, get him into trouble with the authorities quite often, but it never stopped him. Johnny Clegg was not a political activist; he was just who he was, a boy following his own passions and friendships.

This book has made a huge impression on me and I know for sure I will read it again. I never saw Juluka perform, but my love of their music endures and takes me back to South Africa every time I listen to it. It was the soundtrack of my life on the farm. I am so pleased Johnny Clegg left this legacy in writing. I shall treasure it always.

For anyone interested in reading this marvellous memoir, the link to the book is here.

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2 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for this review. I shall go and look up Johnny Clegg immediately! 😀 Glad you have found a book to love that resonates so closely with you.

    • It spoke to me in so many ways, Fran. Thank you for reading my review and commenting, my dear xx

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