Lucky Dube, a reggae star who launched his career with criticism of the former apartheid government, was shot to death in an apparent carjacking attempt as he was dropping off his children, police and his Web site said Friday.

The 43-year-old singer was shot Thursday night after two men approached his car in Johannesburg's southern Rosettenville suburb, police spokesman Eugene Opperman said.

"His son was already out of the car. When he saw what was happening, he ran to ask for help," police Capt. Cheryl Engelbrecht said.

The Star newspaper in South Africa said Dube was shot after dropping off his 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter at the gate of his brother's house. The newspaper, quoting an unidentified witness, said the wounded musician drove away and hit a car, lost control and crashed into a tree.

Opperman said police were searching for three suspects, although only two men approached the car. "At this time all indications are that it is a hijacking that went wrong," he said.

Dube, one of South Africa's best-known singers, recorded more than 20 albums in a career spanning more than two decades. His albums -- many of which focused on South Africa's former apartheid government -- were sung in Zulu, English and Afrikaans.

His seminal song "Come Together as One" was his vision for unity in the new South Africa.

President Thabo Mbeki praised him as "an outstanding South African" and said the nation needed to "act together as a people to confront this terrible scourge of crime."

South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, recording an average of 50 murders each day. U.N. crime statistics say one in three Johannesburg residents has been robbed. Rapes and assaults also are common.

Ivor J. Haarburger, head of Dube's recording company, Gallo Music Group, said he was deeply saddened by the loss.

"Lucky was not just an extraordinary artist, he was a personal friend," he was quoted as saying on Dube's Web site. "It's so sad to lose such a great friend and so tragically. Why?"

Dube switched from a traditional South African musical style to reggae in the 1980s to express his anger against South Africa's former racist white-minority regime.

Through his music, Dube "played a pivotal role in sensitizing the world about the hardships faced by oppressed people in South Africa at the height of apartheid," the governing African National Congress party said in a statement.

His songs were social commentary on issues that ranged from dealing with alcoholism -- "I am a Liquor Slave" -- to social anthems like "Prisoner," which highlighted the many injustices of apartheid. His first album, "Rastas Never Die," was a message for peace and unity.

He toured all over the world, sharing the stage with such artists as Michael Jackson, Ziggy Marley, Celine Dion, Sinead O'Connor and Sting.