'What Johnny Clegg stood for has inspired us and lives with us now'

Johnny Clegg's music career spanned nearly four decades. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Johnny Clegg's music career spanned nearly four decades. File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 17, 2019


Johannesburg - Melody Xaba had always wanted to meet Johnny Clegg, especially when she won a scholarship in his name two years ago to study for her MBA.

Now though, it’s too late. Clegg succumbed to his five-year battle with pancreatic cancer on Tuesday afternoon 16 July 2019.

“I was incredibly grateful but also incredibly honoured to win the scholarship. I adore Johnny Clegg and what he stands for. I might have had the opportunity to finish school from Barnato Park High School in town but I grew up in Orlando West and to be brutally honest my childhood memories of white people were soldiers with guns in armoured vehicles patrolling the streets.

“My late dad loved Johnny Clegg and introduced me to his music and so Johnny became the least scary white man I knew. People like him, PJ Powers and Claire Johnson of Mango Groove all gave me hope for this country.

“I would have loved to have got the opportunity to meet him one day – and tell him that.”

Xaba grew up watching Jam Alley – and when she was older, she produced it; “that show completed the circle for me, it was what inspired me to work in TV in the first place”, she said. Xaba would go onto create the South African Sunday TV phenomenon “Our Perfect Wedding” and then work as executive producer on e-tv’s Breakfast Show, but it was a chance meeting with one of her clients while working at production house Rapid Blue that would turn her life around.

“She was doing her MBA at Henley and told me about it. She suggested I try out for it. I asked why and she said it was because Henley had this special programme for creatives. The MBA had always been on my bucket list so I came for the open day.”

Xaba was hooked from that very moment. There was only one problem, she didn’t know how she’d pay for her studies. It wasn’t a strange feeling, she took three years after matriculating working odd jobs around town, some she’d rather forget, before she raised the money to go to Afda to study film in the first place.

But then she was awarded the Johnny Clegg scholarship last year that paid for her entire tuition.

Her MBA journey, has been as life changing – it inspired her to leave her job as an executive producer and start her own production company, Oasis Pictures, at the end of last year but not before her staff on the Breakfast Show successfully nominated her as Elle magazine’s Boss of the Year.

And she is still managing to fit in winning awards too.

Melody Xaba won the Johhny Clegg scholarship two years ago to study for her MBA. Picture: Supplied

On Thursday 27 June, she was nominated as one of the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans, the newspaper’s annual list of the country’s most impressive and up and coming young South Africans, being nominated in the film and media segment.

“I didn’t realise how big an honour it was until the actual night of the awards when I got there. I thought ‘oh my gosh, these people are all so incredible, why are they all here? By the end of the evening I was quite overwhelmed.”

If anything, though, it has just spurred her on not just to complete her MBA – she’s at the halfway mark – but to leave a real legacy for her industry.

“My long-term goals are far bigger than just establishing my own business, I’m fascinated by the fourth industrial revolution and how other sectors are changing their systems to be ready, what are we doing in the film and media sector? What can I do?

“I want to leave a positive legacy, not just from the art perspective but the commercial element too, helping to create sustainable creative industries, I want to pay it forward.”

It’s something that Clegg would have appreciated.

When the business school announced the scholarship in 2014 to mark the launch of its unique music and creative industries MBA programme, he said: “As an artist, I had to learn about the business side of music through trial-and-error. In many real respects, I was self-taught.”

“With over 30 years in the industry, what I’ve learnt is that information is power – and to date, very little has been offered by academia to address how our work in the arts is structured and plays out.”

“Johnny epitomised what we were trying to do with our scholarships,” said business school dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley, “allowing us to add massive diversity, infusing our seminars with top class creatives. Where else will you get to share a class with a household name in music, or a world standard TV anchor, a fantastic comedian or an internationally acclaimed investigative journalist?

“As a business school, we can do something, we can be agents of positive changes. We are not here to serve corporations or governments but the people. We need to be teaching that the aim of business is prosperity – a better life, better economy and better hope for our children - and not profit. A key part of that is creating a sustainable arts and creative industry.

“We are immensely grateful for the opportunity we had to work with a South African icon like Johnny Clegg and to have had the privilege to honour him in this way,” said Foster-Pedley.

“Johnny Clegg stood for something and what he stood for has inspired us and lives with us now.”

* Kevin Ritchie is a freelance writer.

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