Dolly Rathebe Maverick Extraordinaire

Inspired by a school assignment which my daughter Taynita Harilal worked on for her History Grade 12 project in producing African Narratives the opportunity to create legacy content and information that can advance South African heritage using digital becomes easier to share.

The ten things I have learnt about Dolly Rathebe, a maverick and extraordinary South African who was an artist, actor, model, singer and fashion icon and was born in Randfontein on 2nd April 1928 and passed away a the age of 76 in Pretoria in 2004.

  1. Josephine Dolly Rathebe was the first black South African female to star in a movie in 1949 and released in 1951 Jim Comes to Joburg which would bring a plethora of features as a leading lady in commercials and cover girl.
  2. Dolly Rathebe was a cover girl to appear on ‘The African Drum’ which was re-launched in the 1950s as ‘Drum’ and became an important platform for a new generation of photographers and writers who changed the way Black People were represented in society.
  3. She was married to Welcome Duru, an accomplished actor and composer who wrote some of the most popular songs of the time, one ‘Mbombela’ covered by Miriam Makeba appeared on the first African album ever to win a Grammy.  She had three kids two of which were fathered by Welcome Duru.
  4. She used her artistic flairs in a number of business interests  and was once the was the lead lady for advertising  Max cigarettes  in their commercials.
  5. Dolly Rathebe was arrested with suspicion of breaking the ‘immorality act’ when she was seen with German photographer Jurgen Schadeberg at a photo shoot at a mine dump in Johannesburg.
  6. She was the lead singer of The Inkspots & The Harlem Swingsters.
  7. She sang at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in 1994 with a number of leading iconic South African musicians who included Letta Mbulu, Mara Louw, Sophie Mgcina, Abigail Khubeka and others.
  8. She appeared on no less than 5 movies in her lifetime, including a role on ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ alongside James Earl Jones.
  9. Also a humanitarian, she funded the building of a community centre in Klipgat, ‘Meriting kwa Dolly’ which was used as a community hall and retreat that took care of elderly people.
  10. Dolly Rathebe was honoured with many awards including a SAMA lifetime achievement award and was conferred the Order of Ikhamanga by the former president, his Excellency Thabo Mbeki in 2004 for her contribution to the fight against apartheid and contribution to the arts. Sadly she passed away a month before she could collect the award.

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