Afro-soul icon Zahara has died, age 36

South African Afro-soul icon Zahara has died, aged 36.

The singer – whose real name is Bulelwa Mkutukana – passed away on December 11 “surrounded by family and loved ones”.

According to Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa, the government had been assisting her family “for some time”. In 2019, Zahara’s sister told South African news outlet City Press that the singer had been struggling with liver failure. However, no official cause of death has been given.

In a statement on Instagram, her family said: “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.

“A legendary figure in the world of music, Zahara remarkably touched millions of people’s lives with her extraordinary gift and passion for music. She leaves behind an indelible mark on the music industry and a legacy that will forever resonate in our hearts and souls.

“A life so beautifully lived deserves to be beautifully remembered,” they continued. “May we remember Zahara not with sorrow, but with stories of healing, joy, kindness, and inspiration she brought to us through her life and her music.

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

Tributes have poured in for the singer. President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, wrote: “Zahara’s passing is unfortunate. We have been robbed of a great talent. She’s one of the best we have produced in the arts and I am deeply saddened by her passing.”

Zimbabwean Afropop singer Ammara Brown wrote: “This is heartbreaking, but I will always remember you with the abundant light your music always brought to my home”. Meanwhile, pop musician Makhadi wrote: “Rest in peace queen”.

Other tributes have arrived from the likes of Moonchild Sanelly, who has worked with Ghetts and Damon Albarn‘s Africa Express, along with singer and Bongo Muffin frontwoman Thandiswa Mazwai – read them below.


Born in East London in Eastern Cape, Zahara was best known for her 2011 album ‘Loliwe’, and sang in both Xhosa and English. The album went double platinum and won two South African Music Awards, including Album of the Year. She would go on to release four more albums, the most recent being 2021’s ‘Nqaba Yam’ (‘Endure’).

In 2020, Zahara was also selected as part of the BBC’s 100 Women. At the time, the BBC said: “The singer-songwriter has been showered with awards and is enjoying a successful career in the music industry – but she has also used her platform to speak out about violence against women in South Africa, something she revealed has happened to her.”

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