South African reggae star shot dead in front of his children

South Africa was united in grief and anger yesterday after the murder of the country's favourite reggae star, Lucky Dube, who was shot dead in front of his children in a botched car-jacking.

The singer was shot and killed late on Thursday evening as he dropped off his teenage son and daughter at their uncle's house in Johannesburg's Rosettenville suburb. Three men approached the car and shot the singer at close range. Police said that Dube attempted to drive away from the gunmen but lost control of the car and ran into a tree. He died at the scene.

The murder has re-ignited criticism of the South African government's failure to curb violent crime with even senior members of President Thabo Mbeki's government calling for urgent and "extraordinary measures" to combat the problem.

The murder of South Africa's biggest-selling reggae singer cast a shadow over the national mood a day before the country's rugby union team face England in the final of the World Cup.

With the 2010 Football World Cup drawing close and violent crime showing no signs of abating, many in South Africa fear the country could suffer with fans staying away in fear.

Calls for the restoration of the death penalty have become almost routine. So far Mr Mbeki has ruled out capital punishment saying blacks, who were disadvantaged during apartheid, would end up as the majority on death row.

Dube's record company said the murder was senseless. "Lucky wasn't just big in South Africa, he was big in Africa and the rest of the world where he had a huge fan base. He was a fantastic ambassador for South African music, because he was always out there promoting South African music and reggae music around the world," said Ivor Haarburger, Gallo Music, chief executive .

He recorded more than 20 albums in his career and won more than 20 awards locally and internationally. His first album, released in 1984 with the title Rastas Never Die, was banned by the country's apartheid government. During his career he performed across the world and shared the stage with musicians such as Sinead O'Connor, Peter Gabriel and Sting.

Born in 1964, Dube's parents named him Lucky, because he was so frail as an infant that they did not anticipate he would survive.

After his secondary education, he obtained a bachelor of science degree at Kwazulu Natal University before enrolling for a programme in medicine. He did not complete the course, preferring to launch his musical career. His lyrics focused on the black people's struggle, as he drew inspiration from the legendary Jimmy Cliff. Hits such as "Slave", "Think About the Children" and "Prisoner highlighted the cruelties of apartheid and inspired the masses during South Africa's long fight against institutionalised racism.

At the 1991 reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica, he made headlines by being the only artist to be invited back on stage for a 25-minute encore. Dube is survived by his wife, Zanele, and seven children.

President Mbeki led the country in mourning and urged South Africa's rugby team, the Springboks, to beat England in the final in France today as the best tribute to the singer.

He said because the Springboks were artists, "their victory must be a tribute to Lucky Dube". But Mr Mbeki's exhortations will be inadequate to mollify a country increasingly angry at the crime scourge, which many blame on his government.

The opposition Democratic Alliance said the murder illustrated that violent crime was out of control. It also spoke to the failure of the government's anti-crime remedies.

The largest black opposition party, the Inkatha Freedom Party, accused Mr Mbeki of being in denial of crime as he was in denial of HIV/Aids. According to statistics a murder takes place in South Africa every 24 seconds and a woman is raped every 21 seconds.

Mr Mbeki caused a storm when he suspended the country's director of public prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, shortly after Mr Pikoli had obtained an arrest warrant for the country's police commissioner, Jacki Selebi.

Mr Selebi has been linked to organised-crime syndicates. He outraged the country when he admitted that one of South Africa's most notorious alleged crime lords, Glen Agliotti, was his personal friend. The statement was followed by allegations that Mr Selebi had received thousands of pounds from Mr Agliotti, who is currently standing trial over the murder of a top South African businessman, Brett Kebble.

While the allegations raised against Mr Selebi so far and his own claims of friendship with a suspected criminal would have been enough to end his career elsewhere in the developed world, he has thus far kept his job. Mr Mbeki is said to be protecting Mr Selebi because he needs him badly for his re-election as president of the ruling ANC at the party's crunch December congress.

Although Mr Mbeki's final term as President ends in 2009, he wants to maintain his grip on the ANC, much to the chagrin of many in his party who believe he is becoming yet another African autocrat.

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