South African Afro-pop singer Zahara has died after being hospitalized with liver problems following years of alcohol abuse. She was 36. Her death was announced by the country's culture minister on Tuesday. The songstress gained prominence in 2011 with her album "Loliwe," which garnered widespread admiration across the African continent.
Zahara, whose real name is Bulelwa Mkutukana, died on Monday in Johannesburg, as confirmed by her family in a statement posted on her official page on X (formerly Twitter). The statement did not give any cause of death. Last month, her family said that Zahara was hospitalized due to an undisclosed health issue and had requested privacy during that time.
Alcohol Killed Her
Zizi Kodwa, South Africa's Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, who confirmed Zahara's death, mentioned that the government had been assisting Zahara's family for "some time now." "I am very saddened by the passing of Zahara," Kodwa said.
"My deepest condolences to the Mkutukana family and the South African music industry.
"Government has been with the family for some time now. Zahara and her guitar made an incredible and lasting impact in South African music."
Zahara shot to fame in 2011 with her acclaimed album "Loliwe." In 2020, she was featured in the BBC's 100 Women list, showcasing the most inspiring and influential women globally.
The Afro-pop sensation, known for her impactful ballads that resulted in multiple platinum-selling albums in South Africa, had been grappling with liver issues stemming from a prolonged struggle with alcohol addiction.
She was admitted to the hospital last month and, unfortunately, died on Monday.
Last month, Zahara's manager, Oyama Dyosiba, confirmed that the singer had been admitted to the hospital due to reported physical discomfort and pain.
Family and Fraternity Devastated
Zahara, born into a poor family in a village near the South African city of East London, suffered liver disease as a consequence of her enduring struggle with alcohol addiction over the years.
In 2019, her sister Nomande said that doctors had told her: "If Zahara continues drinking, she is going to die. We are making sure that there is always someone around her to monitor her so that she doesn't start drinking again."
Warner Music Africa, Zahara's record company, expressed condolences, saying that they are mourning the death of the talented artist.
Zahara, who was self-taught in playing the guitar, achieved a remarkable feat by winning Album of the Year at the South African Music Awards for her debut album, "Loliwe," which sold out within 72 hours.
Her distinctive voice drew favorable comparisons to artists such as Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, and India Arie.
Zahara shared the stage with luminaries such as Hugh Masekela, James Ingram, and Lauryn Hill at Africa's largest jazz festival in 2012. She released five albums and won an impressive 17 South African Music Awards, the country's highest musical honor.
In 2012, Zahara recounted a poignant experience of singing for South Africa's anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela, at his home.
"That was emotional for me. I remember I cried when I started singing to the finish and I even messed up my song," she recalled.
Beyond her musical achievements, Zahara was an advocate against violence targeting women in South Africa, calling it a "pandemic" in the nation. She disclosed a personal incident where she was assaulted by a man who pepper-sprayed her in his car.
"Men feel like they are entitled to women, like women are theirs," Zahara told the BBC. "Men in South Africa, all they care about is them."