A crowd of about 500 bereaved music fans thronged in the scorching sun outside music venue the Bassline in Johannesburg’s Newtown cultural precinct on Wednesday for the memorial service of slain South African reggae icon Lucky Dube.
Inside were another 1 000 fans, family members and friends of the singer who was shot dead last Thursday during an apparent hijacking in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg.
The three-hour memorial service — in celebration of a life “lived with a purpose”, in the words of Dube’s long-time keyboardist Eugene Mthethwa — was scheduled to start at 11am but only got under way about 30 minutes later as fans jostled for space.
The MC, fellow musician Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, opened the ceremony with a prayer, and a song of praise was performed by members of the Shembe Nazareth Church to which Dube belonged. Mabuse called Dube a hero in South Africa and the rest of the world.
Job Dube, a family representative, paid tribute to the singer and said the Dubes had lost more than just a family member. “Lucky was a pillar of the Dube family,” he said.
Dube’s spiritual presence was felt when his band performed two of his songs, Rastas Never Die and Shembe Is the Way — to which crowd members, many in tears, sang along.
Dube this year alone performed in 81 overseas concerts, and Gallo Records South Africa CEO Ivor Haarburger described him as an “amazing performer”.
“I’ve been in Lucky’s career and life for more than 20 years and he was quiet and reserved,” he said.
The service was also attended by singer Thandiswa Mazwai and actress Lilian Dube, and letters of condolence from the presidents of The Gambia and Senegal were read.
Mbaqanga singer Bhekumuzi Luthuli was clearly deeply moved by Dube’s death as tears streamed down his face during a performance of one of his own songs.
“I loved Lucky. I am crying because I don’t know who did this and I am sorry to say this, but I need to say it so I can heal. We must revisit the justice system and bring back the death sentence because the people who killed Lucky will be arrested, but Lucky will never come back,” he said to loud applause from the crowd.
Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the working class and the poor are the main victims of crime in South Africa. The death of Dube should be a wake-up call for South Africans to unite against crime.
“This atrocity highlights the grim reality of the daily carnage on our streets, the main victims of which are working people and the poor,” he told mourners.
Vavi quoted from one of Dube’s popular songs, saying the words underline that everyone can be affected by crime. The lyrics read in part: “Do you ever worry about leaving home and coming back in a coffin, with a bullet through your head?”
South African queen of gospel Rebecca Malope told the Mail & Guardian Online afterwards that the memorial service was conducted in a way that Dube would have liked. “He was passionate about music and this is the best way that we can ever commiserate [with] his death and celebrate his life,” she said.
Three hours of music and tributes to a great artist whose music advocated peace were hardly sufficient for a large number of Rastafarians gathered outside the Bassline, who carried on chanting and singing along to Dube’s songs, played after the ceremony on a big-screen television outside the venue.
“Lucky is survived by his mother, Sara; wife, Zanele; and his seven children, Bongi, Ninkululeko, Thokozani, Laura, Siyanda, Philani and baby Melokuhle; one brother and three sisters. Lala kahle, Mtima [Rest in peace, Mtima],” read the memorial programme handed to mourners.