Johannesburg (AFP)

From its president to a private citizen, South Africa paid tribute on Wednesday to its "White Zulu", singer Johnny Clegg, who died at age 66, praising his role in the fight against apartheid and the reconciliation between races.

"A beloved, inspirational and heroic voice has been silenced and deprives us of an exceptional compatriot and an icon of social cohesion and anti-racism," said the head of state, Cyril Ramaphosa. "Johnny Clegg will always live in our hearts and homes."

Johnny Clegg died Tuesday at his Johannesburg home of pancreatic cancer.

Born in Britain, Johnny Clegg drew his inspiration from Zulu culture to create a blend of African rhythms and Western pop, openly defying the apartheid regime.

His album "Scatterlings of Africa" ​​in 1982 had propelled him to the top charts in Britain and France.

One of his greatest planetary hits, "Asimbonanga" ("We have not seen", in Zulu), is dedicated to Nelson Mandela, the hero of the anti-apartheid struggle.

The Foundation, which perpetuates the legacy of the country's first black president, paid tribute on Wednesday to "the icon of music and the freedom fighter". "We will continue to sing Asimbonanga and we will continue to work for the country of her dreams," she wrote on her Twitter account.

"It was just a gift from God," added Sipho Mchunu, with whom Johnny Clegg founded his first band called "Juluka" at the age of 17. "He was more than a brother (...), I have a broken heart," the musician added on news radio 702.

- "An example for the country" -

Many South Africans have joined these tributes in a country still rife with racial tension a quarter of a century after the fall of the white racist regime.

"If you think that Johnny Clegg was just a white guy who spoke Zulu, you did not understand anything about what he did for culture and all the doors he opened to artists," he tweeted. one of his admirers, Thabane Ndamase-Thabethe.

"It is first and foremost tragic to lose such an artist and such an example for our country," reacted to AFP Cape Town musician Stefan Ehrenreich, "his style of music that mixed races and cultures was absolutely unique ".

"His music crossed the cultures (...), he was arrested several times," also told AFP a businessman from the same city of Cape Town, Andre Ford, "but this has not not prevent from continuing and breaking down the barriers of apartheid. "

The homage to "White Zulu" has expanded to the entire African continent and Europe.

The Senegalese star Youssou N'Dour, who, like him, opened the international pop to the African sounds, thus recalled that he had "forever marked the world by his very bold anti-apartheid fight". "We will be eternally grateful for his song Asimbonanga," he added.

Moussa Soumbounou, the chief executive of Universal Music Africa, hailed "one of the symbols of post-apartheid reconciliation in South Africa". "Beyond the immense talent that was his, he crystallized and accompanied the release of this delicate period of African history".

"What sadness ... part of our struggles and our youth commitments go with him," tweeted for his part the former French Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

A public tribute to the artist must be organized in South Africa at a date to be specified, said his manager Roddy Quin. His funeral will be celebrated in the strictest intimacy.

© 2019 AFP