Ray Phiri’s death is not being mourned in isolation. With him goes jazz musician and teacher to many, Johnny Mekoa.
Many more across various spheres have gone unremembered. With them goes a particular way of being South African.
While many artists fled the country to fight apartheid, the likes of Phiri stayed behind, perfecting the precarious practice of subverting apartheid yet remaining within its radar. It’s an experience familiar to many who resisted from inside. Phiri and Mekoa survived it, succumbing to mortality while leaving behind exemplary legacies.
Because he so charismatically articulated the moral high ground of the anti-apartheid struggle, perhaps Phiri’s death weighs heavy on our minds, for it forces us to think about what remains. In an interview we published a few weeks prior to his death, Phiri warned against speaking in forked tongues and the pretence that our history is not filled with follies to be avoided.