Remembering Dolly Rathebe

Singer Dolly Rathebe, the focus of a school assignment to trace and support heritage and nation building.
Singer Dolly Rathebe, the focus of a school assignment to trace and support heritage and nation building.

SA Youth uses school assignment to trace and support heritage and nation building.

Singer and model Dolly Rathebe was one of South Africa’s great jazz and blues artists, her voice inspired a generation of music lovers. Now her life is being celebrated by a young South Africa.n Taynita Harilal, a Grade 12 learner at Parktown High School for Girls, was so inspired by Rathebe’s life, talent and her ground breaking contribution to South African music that she has set out to remember her in ways that will both her honour her memory and her family.

Using a history project as her starting point, Harilal is using social media to raise awareness about the life, times and music of Dolly Rathebe. During her research Harilal discovered that while Dolly Rathebe may have died a legend, there was never enough money to raise a tombstone in memory of her. Harilal now hopes to take the project further by raising funds that will go towards erecting a tombstone in her honour.

Harilal kicked off the project by consulting Dolly Rathebe’s peers. Abigail Khubeka a lifelong friend was the catalyst in advancing the conversation of possibilities to support legacy building through the project. She highly urged Harilal to continue efforts started years ago to solicit support for the legacy project beyond the school room and assist the family to finally make the tombstone a reality in celebrating the legacy of Dolly Rathebe.

Inspired by Harilal’s efforts, Lethabo Nyathi, a young designer, has added her support by donating a design based on Ntiski Duru’s (Dolly Rathebe’s only surviving child) preference for the artwork. Jessica Mbangeni has also stepped forward to assist the family in raising funds. ‘The opportunity right now is to ensure we continue to work in collectives to see how we can reach the financial support that can allow us to complete this project” says Harilal.

Photographer and filmmaker Jurgen Schadeberg who is well known for his iconic images of Rathebe, along with his wife Claudia are looking to join Harilal in keeping the memories of Rathebe and other jazz greats alive. They hope to erect iconic portraits of these music legends on the streets in Newtown that now bear their names and Harilal is hoping to create a platform and conversations on how this project can become a reality.

Apartheid left many talented musicians in the shadows and by honouring Rathebe in this way, we start a conversation that is important in rewriting a more inclusive history of the country’s diverse cultural landscape. Both projects are seeking the funding necessary to realise them.

“This project has shown me that we can all become active citizens and use our networks and our voices to build our country’s legacy and make a difference.” says Harilal. ‘While my school project is now complete I am hoping this call for assistance will encourage South African business and interested persons who are able to assist with contributing to the tombstone will step up and offer a solution where the legacy project can become a reality and where we can support nation building.

To contact Taynita Harilal or the Duru Family, please write to or call 011 788 7832 or write (Dolly Rathebe’s grandson) who is launching the Dolly Rathebe Foundation.


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