“It was Makeba’s dignity and strength, her generosity of spirit and unflagging dedication to justice and equality that truly made her an example to all people,” the South African Council of Churches said after the death of Makeba on November 10 at the age of 76.
“Her unique gift was her ability to use her musical talents to enrich and inspire others, to open our eyes to injustice and to impart a vision of a more humane and compassionate world,” said the church council also known for its opposition to apartheid. South Africa on November 13 began a period of national mourning for the singer, who died after collapsing on stage while performing in the town of Caserta in Rome. An activist to the end, she was performing at an anti-Mafia gathering.
A public memorial was to be held on November 15 in Johannesburg.
Known as Mama Africa, Makeba was banned from South Africa after appearing in an anti-apartheid documentary film, “Come back, Africa”. The film was shot mainly in Sophiatown, then a cosmopolitan neighborhood of Johannesburg where Makeba started her career.
She attended the premiere of the film at the Venice Film Festival in 1959 but when she tried to fly back to South Africa the following year discovered her passport had been revoked. She progressed to become a world-class musician as well as a voice for the oppressed and a staunch opponent of apartheid.
“There are some people you think are indestructible, with whom it is impossible to associate mortality, and she was one of them. We believed she had always been with us and she would always be there. She was one of those who incarnated the absolute stupidity of apartheid. She helped concentrate the minds of the world on our plight,” wrote Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the Times of London on November 13.
The South African Council of Churches recalled how Makeba’s music thrilled millions of people in South Africa and the world, as she became a source of pride for giving hope.
“We can honor her memory by continuing the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression by drawing on our rich African heritage to ensure that all people in South Africa and around the world are able to enjoy fullness of life that God intends for them,” said the council, which has representatives from all the major denominations in South Africa.