Zahara, an icon of South African Afro-pop music, has died at the age of 35

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By John

South African Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa has announced the death of 35-year-old South African Afro-pop singer Bulelwa Mkutukana, known as Zahara. The singer rose to fame in 2011 with her album Lei Loliwe which found success across Africa and beyond.

As a rising young star in 2011 she had also been invited to play privately for the now elderly Nelson Mandela, who was a big fan of hers. “I feel blessed and I experienced a moment of great humility,” she told reporters after her performance in the statesman’s birthplace in the remote village of Qunu. Kodwa explained that the singer had been hospitalized for several months due to liver complications, and that the government had been assisting the family “for some time”.

“Zahara and his guitar have had an incredible and lasting impact on South African music,” Kodwa wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

In 2019, the singer opened up about her battle with alcoholism. Last month the family confirmed that the musician had been hospitalized with liver complications and urged South Africans to remember her in their prayers. Zahara died on Monday evening in a Johannesburg hospital, public broadcaster Sabc reported. In a statement published on the artist’s Instagram account, the family writes: «she was a pure light and an even purer heart in this world. A beacon of hope, a gift and a blessing for us and for countless people.”

Zahara, who has released five albums, has won dozens of national and international awards. The singer-songwriter also used her platform to speak out about the serious issue of gender-based violence in South Africa, which she has personally experienced. In an interview given last year to a local radio station, she Zahara stressed that her music was not about her success, but she aimed to bring comfort to broken souls who need affection.