Amid a stream of visitors to her home in Mpumalanga, City Press reports that they heard a family member telling Ray Phiri’s mother, Thabethe Phiri, that her son had gone overseas to buy “a big cake for your party”.
She reportedly then said repeatedly: “I thank God. I love God.”
The woman, who is reportedly 113 years old and lives in a small house about 35km outside of Nelspruit, was visited by dignitaries, including Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who came to pay their respects to the late music legend.
Phiri’s mother was only told of his passing on Friday by social workers and psychologists concerned about her frail state.
The family spokesperson, Paul Nkanyane, said this week that relatives had wanted to keep his illness private and stopped a crowdfunding initiative to assist with hospital bills.
“He had been battling for a while and his family were told that it wouldn’t be that long. He died surrounded by friends and family and looked peaceful as he passed,” he told Tshisa LIVE.
Phiri, 70, suffering from lung cancer, had been admitted to a Nelspruit hospital under the care of an oncologist.
He was born near Nelspruit in 1947 and enjoyed a music career that spanned four decades. He rose to fame as a singer in the group Stimela and had some of his music banned by the apartheid regime in the 1980s.
In 1985, Paul Simon asked Ray along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo to join his Graceland project, which helped the South African musicians to make names for themselves abroad.
Ray collaborated with Paul Simon again on Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints album, which saw him perform on stages such as Central Park and Madison Square Garden as well as appearing on top TV shows in the US. In 2012 Paul Simon organised a Graceland anniversary tour that Ray participated in.
The US superstar reportedly asked Nkanyane this week when Phiri’s funeral would be, though the family is not sure whether he will be attending.
The provincial funeral will take place on Thursday and Phiri will be buried at the Heroes’ Acre in Mbombela.