Simon Nkabinde, 61, a singer who became a legend in South Africa while popularizing Zulu music internationally, died of diabetes July 28 at a hospital here.

Mr. Nkabinde, better known as Mahlathini, was the gravel-voiced lead singer for his group, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. He had performed his music alongside such internationally known artists as Stevie Wonder and Sting.

Mr. Nkabinde grew up in a township in Johannesburg and began singing at an early age, performing at weddings and parties.

He began his association with the Gallo Music Co. in the 1960s and, in the 1970s, popularized Mbaqanga music, a fusion of dominant African rhythms, pop and jazz that started in the black township of Soweto outside Johannesburg.

President Thabo Mbeki said Friday that Mr. Nkabinde's death was a tragic loss and paid tribute to his contribution to South African culture. The president said Mr. Nkabinde would always be remembered through his music.

Mbeki's office called Nkabinde a legend in South African music and culture who was seminal in the development of indigenous music.

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens produced hit after hit in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming one of the most popular bands in Africa. The group often was regarded as South Africa's first superband. Although the group disbanded in the late 1970s, it reformed to record the hit Yebo in 1984.

Mr. Nkabinde's death comes at a time when Mbaqanga music is experiencing a revival, with pop groups remixing it in various forms.