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Friday, October 19, 2007

Lucky Dube, 1964-2007

It was heartbreaking to hear that South African reggae star Lucky Dube was murdered yesterday during an attempted carjacking in the Johannesburg suburbs. Two of his seven children were there, and they witnessed his killing.

Lucky Dube was born in deep poverty to a Zulu single mother who had suffered many miscarriages and thought she could never have children. Hence the name she gave him, even though she separated from his father before he was born.

Like so many black South African children before the end of apartheid--and sadly, afterwards, still--Lucky Dube was raised by his grandmother because his mother had to migrate far away to find work. When he started out in music, he and his friends were too poor to buy their own instruments, and got in trouble at school for secretly playing on some they found in a locked cabinet. They turned to riches they already had, their own voices. Although Lucky Dube was best known for reggae, he first got attention for his mbaqanga, traditional Zulu, singing.

Lucky Dube's music was heartfelt, direct, life-affirming and positive, even when melancholy. Despite being banned by the apartheid government, his music enormously moved South Africans in the liberation struggle, and afterwards. He made friends and fans worldwide.

When I visited South Africa several years ago, I remember talking with people, especially black people, about how wonderful his music was. Their faces lit up with joy and pride to hear that a foreigner knew and loved his art, too, his music that meant so much to them.

Lucky Dube's life and death reminds me of this, how each precious life is meant to be and thrive, how violence that cuts any of us short is not meant to be.

Johannesburg has a higher rate of violent crime than almost any city in the world. I think of what has happened to friends who live there. Of the suicide bombings on the streets of Karachi on the return of the former Prime Mininster Benazir Bhutto. Of near-impossibilities of living in Baghdad since the war started.

Even of the continual robberies, assaults, and homicides here in my own inner-city American neighborhood. I could take you around on a pilgrimage to places where people, mostly young African American, have suffered violence and even lost their lives. Including a sweet-faced, charismatic young man who grew up with my daughter.

I wonder what any of us can do. But we have to do it. Fighting back nonviolently is a better way to remember Lucky Dube and all the other cut-short human beings than bitterness, retaliation, despair. As he sang, "Blessed is the hand that giveth, not the one that taketh."

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