Zahara, platinum-selling South African singer-songwriter, dies aged 35

The South African pop singer Zahara, whose soaring voice and strident ballads earned her multiple platinum-selling albums in her home country, has died aged 35.

South Africa’s sports, arts and culture minister, Zizi Kodwa, announced her death, saying: “My deepest condolences to the Mkutukana family and the South African music industry. Government has been with the family for some time now. Zahara and her guitar made an incredible and lasting impact in South African music.”

Last month, her manager, Oyama Dyosiba, confirmed she had been hospitalised “following complaints about physical pains”.

She had suffered liver disease after problems with alcoholism, confirmed by Dyosiba in 2019. Her sister Nomonde said that year doctors had told her, “if [Zahara] continues drinking, she is going to die … We are making sure that there is always someone around her to monitor her so that she doesn’t start drinking again”.

Born Bulelwa Mkutukana in 1987, Zahara was self-taught on guitar and broke through in 2011 with her debut album, Loliwe, a commercial hit that also won album of the year at the South African music awards.

She performed the title track for Nelson Mandela at his home before his death in 2013, and later wrote a tribute song with the lyrics: “Hero of heroes / There’s none like him.” That song, like the rest of her discography, was sung in a blend of Xhosa and English.

Her second album, Phendula, opened with a collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while the country-influenced follow-up, Country Girl, went three times platinum. She signed with a major label, Warner Music, for her fourth album, Mgodi, following a dispute with previous label TS Records.

She also campaigned against violence against women, which she described in 2020 as a “pandemic” in South Africa. She said she was a survivor of an attack from a man who pepper-sprayed her in his car.

“[Men] feel like they are entitled to women, like women are theirs,” she told the BBC. “Men in South Africa, all they care about is them.”


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