How Racism, Poverty And A New Limo Cost Reggae Prince Lucky Dube his life

Why luck ran out for SA reggae prince who bought himself a ‘gangster’ car

By Ehi Ekhator, and Leigh G Banks

  • His killers said they thought he was a Nigerian

Thokozani Dube was 21-year-old when his dad, legendary reggae singer Lucky Dube, was murdered for his new car in Johannesburg.

Lucky had dropped-off Thokozani and his sister Nkulee at their uncle’s house in the suburb of Rosettenville where ANC President Oliver Tambo, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, went to school.

Then Lucky headed back towards his own home in the upmarket cafe-society city of Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, three hours away.

Within minutes though, he was dead, slumped at the wheel of his new Chrysler 300c. It had cost 750,000-rand and was a limo drug dealers, pimps and gangsters in the South Africa’s City of Gold would ‘kill for’, particularly if a Nigerian was driving it.

TK Dube and Sister Nkulee Dube both witness the murder of their father.
TK Dube and Sister Nkulee Dube both witness the murder of their father.

And that’s what happened, three gunmen were cruising looking for an upmarket car, saw Lucky, thought he was Nigerian and callously shot him to death.

Lucky’s killing was no doubt racist and financially motivated. South African thugs regularly target those from other African nations, blaming them for food shortages, lack of jobs, and poverty.

Lucky’s killing was all so pointless.

As he died from the bullets, his Chrysler luxury sedan veered into a tree. His killers left it and fled in an old battered Volkswagen Polo back to the slum district of Spruitview, Katlehong.

But what they’d done had also appalled the killers’ families and Mpho Maruping, the wife of one, ‘shopped’ them. She gave police details of the botched hijacking.

Whether Mpho turned state witness to protect herself or out of horror at the crime, this was game over for the killers.

And they resorted to trying to mitigate their crime by saying they didn’t know Lucky was famous and saying, of course, they thought he was Nigerian. It cut no ice in this racism-riddled country.

The Scene o the Crime Newly-acquired Lucky Dubes Chrystler.
The Scene o the Crime Newly-acquired Lucky Dubes Chrystler.

But the killing of Lucky Philip Dube reminded the world just how violent South Africa was – and to some extent still is – towards Asian and African immigrants in the early part of the 21st century.

According to figures from South African Police, between April 2006 and March 2007, the country recorded 19,000 murders, 52,000 rape cases and nearly 13,000 people were car-jacked.

Lucky Dube was born in Ermelo, formerly the eastern Transvaal, Mpumalanga, on August 3 1964. His mother, Sarah, called him ‘Lucky’ because she had suffered a series of miscarriages.

Forty-one years later, he was good-looking, rich and famous, and his music was creating political controversy in many parts of the world. He’d appeared with controversial acts like Sinead O’Conner, Peter Gabriel and Sting.

He was also making it big in Australia. His lyrics massively resonated with Aboriginal Australia. Lucky’s most requested song was Slave.

By the time his tour of the territories began in May 2005, he had thousands of fans and played in Alice Springs, Darwin and Cairns.

Lucky had also made it through the car-crash of several failed relationships, and he adored his seven children – Bongi, Nkulee, Tk, Laura, Syanda, Philani and Melokuhle.

In late March 2009, Judge Seun Moshidi of the South Gauteng High Court sentenced Sifiso Mhlanga, aged 34, Julius Ngxowa, 32, and Mbuti Mabe, 31, the murderous trio to life imprisonment.

“They are in prison till this very day,” TK Dube, who, because of them, effectively lost his dad twice, said. “People often ask me how it feels to have had “Lucky Dube” as my father, given his social status. To me, he was just a father, and I knew little about him as the man on stage …,”

As he said this, Dube’s songs were still being seen as dissident by supporters of apartheid. Lucky Dube wasn’t a fan of the then-government either, and his music was regularly described as criminal.

Songs like 1987’s ‘Slave’, 1988’s ‘Together As One’ and ‘Prisoner’ with lyrics like ‘Somebody told me about it/When I was still a little boy/ He said to me, crime does not pay/He said to me, education is the key’, before offering the counterpoint: ‘The policeman said to me, son/They won’t build no schools anymore/All they’ll build will be prisons, prisons,’ had him marked as a trouble causer.

Sadly, eleven years after his death, South Africa is still embroiled in racism – a country full of greed, xenophobia and hate. Places like Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and other cities still have systematic segregation where the rich live in the affluent northern suburbs. The poor struggle in disease-ridden shanties.

In 2019 riots were still happening in Johannesburg and spreading to Durban, leading to the death of at least seven people, mostly black migrants.

TK-Dube
TK-Dube

Despite the government’s promises to combat xenophobia, it has done little to change things.

But there is no doubt Dube’s music changed lives and offered hope to many South Africans during politically sanctioned racial segregation.

Unlike his siblings, TK reunited with his dad at 11. His mother had dumped the ‘Rastaman’ years earlier. A decade later, though, the blow of losing Lucky again was almost unbearable.

Even today, he refuses to confirm or deny he actually witnessed the shooting.

But there is no doubt that TK is made of a similar kind of steel to Lucky, and after the murder, he threw himself into his education and graduated just a year later. His father’s absence on graduation day broke his heart, though.

“Unfortunately, when I finished my qualification in 2008, he was not around to see it,” he said.

“I felt that graduating at that time was pointless because my number one supporter was not there.

“But I remember my father said, ‘look, TK, look at the world around you; everything is going towards IT. You need to make sure you are part of the revolution. I believed what I said … but when he wasn’t there, I felt really useless.”

One of Lucky Dube best-known songs, ‘ Son, I’m Sorry’, describes the break-up and how he felt his children shouldn’t suffer over his parent’s actions.

TK said, “What stands out for me in the song is the apology. It takes a real man to apologize, to apologize to your son or daughter, that’s wow. Many parents don’t do that, but to show the type of man he was, to humble himself that way, for me, that is a real man.”

TK would compose songs and sing, but he said, “One of the biggest things for my father was education. The reason for that, I think, is that he struggled for his education. One of the things he said to me was, ‘listen, make music, I don’t mind, but you must have an education.’ Education was everything to him.”

He said, “my father explained the reason why he said I should not make music now. I understood why he wanted that to happen.”

Despite losing his number 1 fan, TK went ahead to obtain NDip – Information Technology majoring in Software Development, Btech – Information Technology Management, Honours – Information Systems and Technology Management, PGDip – Management Practice, MBA Final year.

His life, he says, has been a journey, and despite hurdles, he has continued to get stronger. But he has never settled into a permanent relationship.

TK said, “I’m not married yet because it’s not a priority in my life at this point, and when I meet the right person and the time is right, I will get married.”

Meanwhile, TK registered a company in 2010 to manage his father’s old band, “Lucky Dube Band”. The band released a song, “Celebrate his life”, about four years ago.

But like in all modern music tragedies, the story doesn’t stop at the grave and Lucky’s case, it’s his car that keeps ongoing but in a way that many see as cynical and insensitive. The wrecked 300c was bought and put back together again – then a wedding company, Our Perfect Wedding, got hold of it and used it as a macabre limo.

Its link to Lucky was used to publicize to the company.

And in another move, a ride in the in Lucky’s Limo became a prize in a TV show.

Leigh G Banks, journalist, broadcaster and writer and the Publisher at The Leigh G Banks Preservation Society

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