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The Death of AKA: Remembering his legacy and acknowledging his controversies

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

On Friday, 10 February, South Africa was shocked and disheartened to hear of the passing of famous local rapper Kiernan Jarryd Forbes. Forbes, professionally known as AKA, was killed alongside his former manager Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane by two armed suspects whilst leaving a restaurant on Florida Road in Morningside, Durban. The KwaZulu-Natal police have stated that “Both victims were declared dead at the scene. The motive of the shooting is unknown at this stage and police investigations are ongoing”.

Following AKA’s death, many tributes are being made for him acknowledging the importance of his contributions to the South African hip-hop music genre. The Department of Sports, Art and Culture released a statement in which they said, “AKA was known as one of the most patriotic artists who literally flew the South African flag high everywhere he went around the globe”, thus demonstrating his importance to the public. The ANC have even publicly paid their respects to the rapper, claiming that Forbes would be remembered as an “opinionated radical” who “stood at the forefront of the cultural revolution”. The father of AKA’s late fiancé, Moses Tembe, states that “Kiernan was an extraordinary and talented musician. His music contributed meaningfully to South Africa’s and indeed Africa’s rich music tapestry”. Given the overwhelming response to his death, it is apparent that the rapper is well loved, and that the legacies he left behind will continue to be influential in the South African music industry.

It is, however, difficult to pay tribute his successes and influential career without also acknowledging his previous controversies. AKA’s 2021 controversy and relevant abuse allegations hasn’t been recognised in the same breath as his tragedy in many of the articles I’ve seen paying tribute to him thus far. Logically, I believe that this is to show respect to the Forbes family during this period of grief, as they have requested respect and compassion from the public during this time. To be clear, my intent is not to speak ill of the dead, nor is it to disrespect the Forbes family. Rather, my intent is to acknowledge his controversy as to not invalidate the seriousness of the allegations presented against AKA, and to ensure that these issues don’t get swept under the rug amongst the endless amount of praise that he is receiving on a worldwide scale.

The controversy and allegations

In April of 2021, AKA’s fiancé, Anele Tembe, passed away after allegedly falling from the tenth floor of a hotel in Cape Town. Forbes claimed that the two were having problems and were having many arguments in the weeks leading up to Tembe’s tragic death. On the night of her death, the rapper claims that they were arguing, and that Tembe threatened to kill herself by jumping from the balcony. Unfortunately, this was the trajectory of her death. Forbes claimed that his fiancé was suicidal and that she had attempted to end her life prior to her death.

A month before her tragic death, a video circulated social media of the rapper breaking down the door to their apartment to get to Tembe, who had been hiding from him, allegedly. Tembe’s friend claims that after he broke down the door, AKA allegedly started a fight with Tembe and smashed her face against a wall. Tembe’s friend continued to speak out against AKA following her death, and spoke to News24 about the abuse that Anele “allegedly suffered at the rapper’s hands”. The context of these allegations, the circumstances surrounding Tembe’s death become that much more tragic, and places much more scrutiny on the award-winning rapper. Tembe’s father went as far as to suggest that his daughter wasn’t suicidal, insinuating that he believed foul play was involved in her death – however, it must be stated that this is speculation.

As so eloquently stated by Sanya Osha, journalistic writer for the The Conversation, “Normally, a tragedy like this ought to have ended a rapper’s career. But AKA voluntarily withdrew from the spotlight for a short while only to rebound with renewed vigour.” Osha also claims that because of his fiercely loyal fans, AKA “was virtually a demi-god who could do no wrong”, insinuating that this perhaps explains why his career continued to thrive despite the seriousness of the allegations against him.

AKA denied the accuracy of these abuse allegations. He further stated that he believed that the public and the media were trying to “set a negative narrative” on him. After this, the investigation into the accuracy of these allegations reaches a stalemate, leaving it up to individual interpretation as to whether you believe it or not. In my personal (albeit, unprofessional) opinion, the evidence of the truth of the abuse allegations is convincing. The video itself is a jarring watch, and the images that circulated after its release are equally shocking. However, regardless of my (again, unprofessional) opinion, it is hard to just disregard such serious allegations, especially in South Africa where the epidemic of gender-based violence haunts the nation.


His death is undoubtedly a huge loss in South Africa’s music industry; however, it is also difficult to ignore the controversial allegations that he leaves behind in his wake. While it is important to recognise and honour the legacies that he has left behind and to pay tribute to his successes, it is crucial not to let these tributes gloss over and sanitise the abuse allegations against him. This is particularly important given the severity of the abuse claims against him, especially in the South African context where gender-based violence is a prevalent and ongoing issue.

Film and Television Studies Honours student