Nokutela Dube was the first wife of Reverend John Langalibalele Dube, the first President General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC- later renamed the African National Congress ANC). As an equal partner to John Langalibalele Dube, Nokutela Dube contributed to building everything that we know today as the John Dube legacy in South Africa. Together, they tirelessly raised funds in the United States of America (USA) between 1896 and 1899 to build the Ohlange Institute (1900), the newspaper Ilanga Lase Natal (1903) and many other ground-breaking institutions that have furthered the cause of multiracial democracy in the country since the early 20th century. She was a pioneering political activist, educationist, and musician. Her many talents were crucial in the establishment of the outstanding educational institution that Ohlange was from the very first day of its existence in Inanda, South Africa.
Born in 1873 in Inanda (KZN), Nokutela Mdima was educated at Inanda Seminary and became its earliest graduate to build institutions for modern Africa. She was multi-talented and was a singer, seamstress, educator, and an early voice for Africa in the 19th century USA and Europe. She taught at Inanda Seminary for a few years and later received additional training in the United States at the Union Missionary Training Institute in Brooklyn, New York, between 1896 and 1899. She specialised in Music and Home Economics. She is the co-author with John L. Dube of a book titled Amagama Abantu (A Zulu Song Book) published in 1911. This book stands as a landmark in the development of Zulu Choral music.
Up until her death in 1917, she travelled many times with her husband to the USA to gather financial support for their work to uplift the African people through industrial education. This was following the model of the famous African-American leader, Booker T. Washington, the founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Because their school was totally independent of the Natal Department of Education, it did not receive any government support for years.
During their tours in the United States and in Europe, John Dube would speak about their ambitious plans for the upliftment of their people in South Africa, followed by Nokutela, who would dazzle audiences with her fine voice, her click songs and her piano playing. As such, Nokutela preceded Miriam Makeba by almost sixty years, another famous South African singer. Makeba would lead South African artists in their fight against Apartheid in the early 1960s.
The talent of John and Nokutela Dube as fundraisers and promoters of African education was crucial not only in the beginning but also through the many decades of the school’s life as a unique nursery for independence and self-employment among black South Africans and Africans of neighbouring British colonies. Part of their effort led to the popularisation of Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika (composed by Enoch Sontonga), the song that became the National Anthem of the Republic of South Africa, after being performed for years by the Ohlange Choir as “A Prayer For the Children at Ohlange”.
Nokutela’s courage, self-sacrifice and leadership were a great source of inspiration to many in her lifetime. Thus, Miss C. Lillian Tshabalala of Groutville followed her example by gaining education in the United States, later returning to her native South Africa to form the very progressive and influential movement called The Daughters of Africa in 1926.
Nokutela is an extraordinary African woman and pioneer, whose name, because of a cruel irony of biology (she could not bear children!) and injustice of human history (Colonialism/Apartheid and the patriarchal system was so dominant at the time), was wiped out of our collective memory. Nokutela had been in an unmarked grave in Johannesburg for almost a century, until August 11, 2012, when her family and friends gathered for a very moving tribute and unveiling of a temporary marker.
• Coan, S (2011), Its Nokutela’s turn, from The Witness, 02 November [online] Available at www.witness.co.za[Accessed 17 October 2012]
• Consul General Earl Miller Pays his Respects to Nokutela Dubefrom the United Sates Diplomatic Mission to South Africa, [online] Available at https://southafrica.usembassy.gov/index.html[Accessed 17 October 2012]
• Nokutela Dube headstone unveiled, from The Eye Witness News, [online] Available at https://ewn.co.za [Accessed 17 October 2012]
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