Schoolgirl’s bold mission to remember Dolly Rathebe

Singer and model Dolly Rathebe (1928-2004) was one of South Africa’s great jazz and blues artists. She grew up in Sophiatown and was discovered around 1948 by a Gallo talent scout after singing at a picnic in Johannesburg. It was not long before she became a star, her voice inspiring a generation of music lovers, often as part of the Elite Swingsters. However, the singer's legacy sometimes exists in the shadows of Miriam Makeba and her other contemporaries, despite numerous accolades, such as a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2001 SAMAs and the national Order of Ikhamanga in 2004.

Taynita Harilal (right) with Ntsiki Dura, Dolly Rathebe’s only surviving child. Photo: Facebook
Taynita Harilal (right) with Ntsiki Dura, Dolly Rathebe’s only surviving child. Photo: Facebook

Now Rathebe life is being celebrated by a young South African: Taynita Harilal, a Grade 12 learner at Parktown High School for Girls in Johannesburg, who was inspired by Rathebe’s life, talent and groundbreaking contribution to South Africa music.

Using a history project as her starting point, Taynita 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 with Dolly Rathebe’s peers. Abigail Khubeka, a life-long friend, was the catalyst in advancing the conversation of possibilities to support legacy building through the project. She urged Taynita to continue efforts started years ago to solicit support for the legacy project beyond the schoolroom and assist the family to finally make the tombstone a reality in celebrating the legacy of Dolly Rathebe.

Inspired by Taynita’s efforts, Lethabo Nyathi, a young designer, has added her support by donating a design based on suggestions by Ntsiki Duru, Dolly Rathebe’s only surviving child. Praise singer 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,” said Taynita.

Photographer and filmmaker Jurgen Schadeberg, who is well-known for his iconic images of Rathebe, along with his wife Claudia, are looking to join Taynita 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, Johannesburg that now bear their names. Taynita 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, it is hoped that people can 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. Taynita has already been interviewed on national TV and radio, including 5FM, eNCA and PowerFM.

“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,” continued Taynita. “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.”

Visit the tribute page here. To contact Taynita Harilal or the Duru Family, please write to JT Communications at Or email to contact Dolly Rathebe’s grandson, Tshepo Duru, who is launching the Dolly Rathebe Foundation.



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