Dolly Rathebe honoured with ‘digital’ tombstone

South African singer Dolly Rathebe died in 2004 at the age of 75. While she may have died a legend synonymous with the history of Sophiatown, her family did not have the means to erect a tombstone. Now, with September being Heritage Month in South Africa, an important milestone legacy project has come to fruition thanks to the spiralling support of a schoolgirl's call to action.

A young Dolly Rathebe. Photo: jurgenschadeberg.com
A young Dolly Rathebe. Photo: jurgenschadeberg.com

On the morning of Saturday 19 September, family and friends joined the Duru/Rathebe family and a number of their sponsors honoured the musician’s legacy by unveiling her tombstone at a special memorial event at the New Roodepoort Cemetery at 301 Elias Motsoaledi Road, Dobsonville, Soweto.

Earlier this year, Taynita Harilal, a grade 12 pupil from Parktown High School for Girls, used her school project on the late Dolly Rathebe and social media to kickstart a conversation about one of South Africa's great music legends. In the remarkable chain of events that followed, she not only raised awareness about the singer, songwriter and actress, she also ensured that Rathebe’s memory would finally be honoured with a memorial site.

Inspired by the call to action from Taynita, Lebogang Khitsane, an inspiring entrepreneur and managing director of Bataung Memorial Tombstones, stepped in to offer support. An innovative plaque, statues and monument manufacturing company based in Ekhuruleni, east of Johannesburg, Bataung Memorials generously donated a tombstone to the value of R150 000 (about US$11000) fitted with a special QR code. This innovative service allows visitors to the gravesite to access and interact with content related to the deceased’s life and times and to share the memory while creating an online legacy for loved ones. “We are happy to have been part of the solution towards remembering this great icon,” said Khitsane.

When she started the project, Taynita could not imagine the reach her history project would have and has been inspired by the generous offers of support and renewed interest in Rathebe’s life and music. In June she was awarded the Lead SA 702 Youth Hero of the Month and spoke about the project at this year’s Jozi Book Fair. She has invited by Rathebe’s family to be a part of the recent ceremony. “I am so excited and honoured to have been part of this project," she said. "Working on it has been an eye-opening experience and very educational to me, making me realize the importance of legacy preservation in this lifetime.”

The Gauteng Department for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation supported the family in the organisation of the event to honour the musician’s legacy and unveil her tombstone. The Rathebe family would also like to thank Johannes Henning-Schmitt of The Florist at Duncan Yard in Hatfield, Pretoria for the generous donation of flowers for the memorial site.

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