Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy at the funeral of the music great, Joseph Shabalala. Shabalala was the founder and leader of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a world-renowned choral music group who have won five Grammy awards. In a vibrant funeral filled with song and joyous memories of Shabalala, Ramaphosa said Shabalala should be remembered as a legend.
Shabalala’s grandchildren and colleagues from the Mambazo family and those from the church, filled the church at various times, singing and dancing traditionally to legendary Black Mambazo songs of yesteryear.
“Bab’ Shabalala was a man amongst men, indoda emadodeni (a man amongst men),” he said. “He was one of South Africa’s most decorated artists; a musical genius, a prolific composer, a multi-talented singer, a nifty dancer and an accomplished choreographer. In the course of his successful career he scaled the heights of stardom on stages and concert halls around the world.
“He put Zulu culture, his hometown of Ladysmith and South Africa on the world map. Where in the world did he not perform? They know him in Germany, Japan, Australia, the US and the UK,” said the president.
Ramaphosa said despite his global success, Shabalala remained grounded.
“Indeed, our brother and father has left us to join the heavenly choir. But the imprint he has left on the music world, on this community and on our nation will continue to be felt long after his gone,” he said.
Ramaphosa said Shabalala understood the conditions men, women and children were denied. He moved to Durban from Ladysmith as a teenager to work in a factory before founding the legendary group.
He said this was evident in lyrics of Ladysmith Black Mambazo songs such as Homeless – which spoke to the conditions of a people dispossessed of their ancestral land, and Shosholoza, which spoke of the thousands of men who were ferried to the mines from their villages.
In a meeting with Shabalala last year, Ramaphosa said he had visited him at his home after he had surgery.
“I congratulated him and Mambazo for having achieved what few musical groups either here or abroad have managed to accomplish, and that is to remain together despite such a great passage of time.
“He was in high spirits despite his frail health. It is testament to his leadership, and to the values of discipline and unity he instilled, that Ladysmith Black Mambazo remains a tour de force in world music more than half a century after it was formed,” said Ramaphosa.
Addressing recent tensions in the Ladysmith area, particularly over service delivery lapses from the local municipality, Ramaphosa said working together was the solution.
“This community of Mnambithi, like many others in our country, is experiencing problems related to service delivery, and, in particular, water shortages. We must work together to resolve these challenges.
“As shown by the taxi feuds that happened here last year, differences can be resolved peacefully and collectively.
“Bab’ Shabalala’s music promoted harmony, love and mutual tolerance. As a nation, we can, like Mambazo, work as a team, despite political differences, to realise the South Africa we want to live in. Bab’ Shabalala’s life is instructive in many ways,” said the president.
In bidding farewell to Shabalala, Ramaphosa borrowed from the words of poet Keorapetse Kgositsile and said the musician would ‘forever live in us’.
“Lala ngoxolo qhawe lama qhawe! Bakulindile oMfazo Mnyama, oJohnny Clegg, oJabu Khanyile, oMiriam Makeba noLucky Dube, (Rest in peace our hero. Other greats like Mfazomnyama, Johnny Clegg, Jabu Khanyile, Miriam Makeba and Lucky Dube await you),” said Ramaphosa.
Shabalala died at the age of 78 on February 11 after an extended illness. The special official funeral category two entails ceremonial elements provided by the South African Police Service.
Ramaphosa has ordered that the national flag be flown at half-mast at every flag station in the country until the evening of February 22. Regulations require that no other flags be displayed when the national flag is flown at half-mast.