The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - SIHLE MANDA sihle.manda@inl.co.za @Sih­le_MG

Song­birds Abi­gail Kubeka, Thandi Klaasen and Dorothy Ma­suka in this 2013 photo. Klaasen passed away yes­ter­day.

SHE was brave. She died with the same dig­nity she had lived her life. This was how the daugh­ter of leg­endary jazz mu­si­cian Thandi Klaasen, who died yes­ter­day from pan­cre­atic can­cer at the age of 86, de­scribed her mother.

Lor­raine Klaasen, also a mu­si­cian, told The Star that her multi-award-win­ning mother died at Thelle Mo­go­er­ane Hos­pi­tal in Vosloorus af­ter be­ing ad­mit­ted on De­cem­ber 9.

“It was a very brief ill­ness, we only found out about it about a month ago,” she said.

Lor­raine said the fam­ily had since yes­ter­day been in­un­dated with calls and mes­sages of con­do­lences.

She re­cently told the Daily Sun that her mom was on the mend af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke in 2015.

“We haven’t had a chance to deal with the loss as a fam­ily. The phones just haven’t stopped ring­ing,” she said, adding that de­tails of the fu­neral ar­range­ments would be com­mu­ni­cated at a later stage.

Thandi was born in Sophi­a­town and started per­form­ing in the 1950s along­side other jazz leg­ends Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba and Dorothy Ma­suka. She also played a part in the 1960s mu­si­cal

King Kong in Lon­don. When she was a teenager, a mix­ture of thin­ners and petrol was thrown at her that left her scarred for life.

In 2006, she was awarded the pres­i­den­tial na­tional Or­der of the Baobab.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, in a state­ment of con­do­lence, de­scribed Klaasen’s death as a tragic loss for the en­tire na­tion.

“Klaasen con­trib­uted to the coun­try not only as a mu­si­cian, but also a so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who was al­ways out­spo­ken about so­cial-eco­nomic is­sues in the coun­try. We have lost one of the lead­ing pi­o­neers of South African jazz mu­sic and pro­mot­ers of the coun­try’s cos­mopoli­tan cul­ture.

“She was a role model to many of our young and up­com­ing mu­si­cians, and her le­gacy will live on for gen­er­a­tions to come,” Zuma said.

Klaasen earned sev­eral ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing life­time achieve­ment awards from the Stan­dard Bank Jazz Fes­ti­val and the South African Mu­sic Awards.

Arts and Cul­ture Min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa said “she touched our spir­its and made us com­plete be­ings in a world in which things were fall­ing apart”.

The ANC Women’s League called on all women in the arts in­dus­try to em­u­late her ex­am­ple

“Im­bokodo, who broke the glass ceil­ing of a mu­sic in­dus­try which is char­ac­terised by dom­i­na­tion of males and be­came an icon in African Jazz. Her ca­reer as a singer and dancer be­gan in the mid1950s when the apartheid and pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem were en­trenched, but that did not de­ter her from pur­su­ing her dreams,” it said in a state­ment.

“The ANCWL sends its deep­est con­do­lences to the fam­ily, rel­a­tives, friends and sup­port­ers of Mam Klaasen dur­ing these try­ing times. May her soul rest in peace,” the league said.

TO­DAY we pay trib­ute to Thandi Klaasen, a doyenne of South African jazz and blues and one of the most iconic women in mu­sic, who died yes­ter­day at 86 af­ter bat­tling pan­cre­atic can­cer for a long time.

A prod­uct of 1950s Sophi­a­town, the place of mu­sic, dreams, tsot­sis and con­tra­dic­tions, Klaasen was one of the most dis­tin­guished and most con­sis­tent jazz and blues singers of her era.

Her death marks the end of that era of au­then­tic jazz and blues vo­cal­ists, and should re­mind us of our rich mu­si­cal his­tory and how artists of her time used their tal­ent to keep peo­ple hope­ful dur­ing the dif­fi­cult years un­der the yoke of op­pres­sion.

To­gether with di­vas such as Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Ma­suka and Sophie Mgcina, she was a house­hold name dur­ing the most bru­tal years of apartheid South Africa, telling the sto­ries of the peo­ple through their mu­sic. They re­fused to give up. Of this group, only Ma­suka is still alive. They are part of the rich her­itage of this coun­try, and their deaths must not re­move them from the his­tory of the strug­gle against white mi­nor­ity rule.

Thandi Klaasen was spe­cial and had the re­silience of a true South African. As if the bru­tal­i­ties of apartheid weren’t enough, Klaasen suf­fered acid burns that left her face badly dis­fig­ured when she was only a teenager, and her life re­volved around the stage, where she en­ter­tained her peo­ple.

Many peo­ple would have given up at that point, con­sid­er­ing how beauty and style – not just tal­ent – de­fined life in 1950s Sophi­a­town. But she didn’t give up on her life or her ca­reer. In­stead, she proved that her voice and stage pres­ence were the real rea­son she was one of the stars of her time. One of the stars of Todd Mat­shik­iza’s mu­si­cal

King Kong, Klaasen was cut out for the stage, and un­til her death yes­ter­day, re­mained an en­ter­tainer, even at 86.

Hounded out of her coun­try of birth by the apartheid regime, Klaasen, like oth­ers of that era, who in­cluded the leg­endary Drum writ­ers and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists, fled the coun­try to live overseas, but her heart re­mained firmly back home. She knew no other life but the hus­tle and bus­tle of her Sophi­a­town, where many of her fam­ily and friends re­mained, fight­ing against op­pres­sion.

It’s no won­der that she was a re­cip­i­ent of the Or­der of Baobab in gold from Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. It was a de­served award for a life ded­i­cated to mu­sic and the arts and her never-end­ing con­tri­bu­tion to her coun­try.

Thandi Klaasen was a le­gend and her con­tri­bu­tion to our mu­sic, her­itage and free­dom will never be for­got­ten. She de­serves a be­fit­ting send-off as we cel­e­brate her life.

Our gov­ern­ment and the en­tire arts and cul­ture sec­tor must work to­gether to en­sure that Mum Thandi, as we called her, is af­forded a fu­neral be­fit­ting her sta­tus as a le­gend. Our le­gend.

Our hearts are with her fam­ily, es­pe­cially her beloved daugh­ter Lor­raine, at this dif­fi­cult time.


Thandi Klaasen bids a tear­ful farewell to Ralph Ra­bie aka Jo­hannes Kerko­r­rel at his fu­neral in 2002. Yes­ter­day, she died from pan­cre­atic can­cer.

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