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Tributes pour in for singer Zahara – ‘A pure light and an even purer heart’

Tributes pour in for singer Zahara – ‘A pure light and an even purer heart’
Zahara performs with Joss Stone at a recording studio on April 1, 2014 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Jan Right)

South Africa woke up to the sad news on Tuesday that talented musician Zahara had died at the age of 36.

Tributes are pouring in for the multi-award-winning Loliwe hitmaker Zahara, who died on Monday night.

Zahara – born Bulelwa Mkutukana – died owing to liver complications in a private hospital two weeks after being admitted to intensive care. She was 36. 

The talented musician had a significant impact on the music industry, and her music, rendered in a soulful voice with inspiring lyrics, touched the hearts of many.

Her debut album’s first issue sold out in 72 hours and continued to reach platinum status in just 13 days, as well as double platinum in 17 days. Zahara’s music was compared to that of the late Brenda Fassie

Sports and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa confirmed the singer’s death in a tribute post on X:


Zahara at the 2nd annual Fashion Industry Awards South Africa at The Firs in Rosebank in November 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)


Zahara performs during the announcement of the nominees for the 15th Metro FM Music Awards on January 15, 2016 at The Campus in Johannesburg, South Africa. The radio station announced that this year’s award winners will walk away with R100 000 each, an initiative introduced to help change the lives of South African artists. (Photo by Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Jan Right)

Her family said: “It is with heavy hearts and deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved daughter, sister and friend Zahara. Surrounded by family and loved ones, Zahara departed this world on Monday 11 December 2023. She was a pure light and an even purer heart in this world, a beacon of hope, a gift, and a blessing to us and countless people around the world.

“May she rest in eternal peace, and may her melodies continue to echo in our hearts forever.”

Zahara’s journey and legacy

Zahara’s journey in the music industry was filled with accolades and milestones. She was a self-taught guitarist and singer. Her love for music started at the tender age of six. In primary school she was appointed lead singer of a Sunday school choir in Phumlani, East London.

She was spotted by TK Nciza while performing in the dusty streets of East London in the Eastern Cape and signed her to his stable, TS Records, which he co-owned with Dj Sbu. Nciza is now the ANC’s Gauteng secretary

Zahara performs during the PSL Awards at Sandton Convention Centre on 18 May 2014 in Johannesburg. (Photo by Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

Zahara during PSL Awards on 18 May 2014 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Her debut album, Loliwe, released in 2011, went platinum in just 13 days and double platinum in 17 days, selling more than 100,000 copies. It earned eight awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Artist at the South African Music Awards (Sama) in 2012. Her albums have also earned Album of the Year and Best Female Artist nominations, and she received a Best Produced Album award for Country Girl. In 2021, her album Nqaba Yam peaked at No 1 on iTunes.

She performed that track in 2013 for Nelson Mandela, and composed a well-received tribute song to him following his death. 

Her first live DVD, which features X Factor USA contestant LeRoy Bell, reached platinum status in one day.

In 2013, she released another album, Phendula, which enjoyed the same success as her previous album, as she received 17 Sama awards and a Nigeria Entertainment award, and earned a place on the BBC’s list of top 100 women.

Zahara and Robbie Malinga during Metro FM Music Awards launch on 14 January 2016 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Zahara perfroms at the ANN7 South African of the Year Awards on 6 September 2014 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Vathiswa Ruselo)

Zahara performs during the Delicious International Food and Music Festival at Emmerentia Dam on 31 May 2014. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)

Outpouring of love

Musicians, politicians, political parties and others have paid tribute to Zahara on social media.

Podcast with MacG shared: 

Political parties across the spectrum posted condolences. 

The EFF wrote: “The Economic Freedom Fighters [are] deeply saddened by the passing of award-winning songstress Bulelwa Mkutukana, better known by her stage name Zahara, who passed away last night after prolonged illness and hospitalisation.

“Zahara must be remembered as a pioneer in the music industry, who broke through in an industry that often discards women and destroys the lives of those who enter it.”

Trade Union federation Cosatu posted:



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nina Bodisch says:

    I’m so sorry that we South Africans have lost this gem of a musical talent. What a soulful lady with beautiful music in her heart that she expressed so well. I’m sorry for all her struggles, I would have wished a long life full of beautiful music for her.

  • mamqike says:

    Zahara ebekwinqanaba lika Mabbrr.
    Lala ngoxolo ntombazana.

  • James Webster says:

    If people are to believe the saccharine and sanitised obituaries published in SA, they would be justified in thinking that SA is populated by a group of Mother Theresas who never set a foot wrong. It is indicative of how truly pathetic the media is in SA that journalists publish all the maudlin and mawkish claptrap people spout about celebrities when they pass on. Celebrities can behave like Genghis Kahns in real life but the media and the celebrities’ groupies paint them as saints once they are dead. It would be refreshing to have an honest account of a celebrity’s life rather than the schmaltzy and cloying tripe the press currently delivers. Wouldn’t it be amusing to see how the current crop of journalistic hacks obituarise sociopaths like Malema or Mantashe, they’d probably come out smelling of roses.

  • Elise Levendal says:

    I am sharing my sincere condolences to Zahara’s family, friends and fans. what a talented singer and song writer, may she find eternal peace. I know that it is not my place to comment on the comments of others, but during a time of the passing of someone who was loved by so many in our country, that we should keep out own comments humane , civil and respectful.

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