Coming Home….

As founding president of the South African Native National Congress (later the ANC), Reverend John Dube is a name known to most South Africans, but what many people aren’t aware of is the important work carried out by his wife, Nokutela MaMdima Dube. An ardent supporter of the work of her husband, and an activist in her own right, Nokutela helped to raise funds for South Africa’s first black-directed school, the Ohlange Institute, while studying at the Union Missionary Training Institute in America from 1896-1899. Nokutela carried on her fund raising activities after completing her studies, sending the money that she earned through her musical performances, back home to South Africa.

Nokutela Dube's Oscar Schmidt Autoharp
Nokutela Dube’s Oscar Schmidt Autoharp

Nokutela had a special interest in music and is credited with popularising Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, which was sung as a prayer by the Ohlange Choir for many years. One of the instruments played by Nokutela was the autoharp, which at the time would have been a relatively modern instrument, having only been invented in the late 1800s. Durban Local History Museums have recently received a donation of the original Oscar Schmidt Autoharp played by Nokutela Dube during her time in America. The instrument was donated by Professor Cherif Keita of Carleton College in the United States, and fittingly will be exhibited at the Ohlange Institute Chapel, where Rev Dube gave his sermons for more than 40 years, and where former president Nelson Mandela, cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections.

1 thought on “Coming Home….”

  1. My suspicion is that Nokutela Dube was one of the first people, if not the first person to introduce the autoharp in early 20th century Natal and to play it around the colony during fundraising events for the Ohlange Institute. By the 1930s, there was at least one autoharp repairer, a black business, in central Durban. That company regularly advertised its services in Ilanga Lase Natal. Given that John and Nokutela were frequent visitors at the Zulu royal court, where they were treated as revered advisors, I am wondering if one can investigate a possible link between the late Princess Magogo’s autoharp playing and Nokutela’s legacy. It is a fact that many young women were influenced by her example as a modern educated black woman and that many followed in her footsteps by going overseas for education, particularly to the United States. One good example was Cecilia Lillian Tshabalala of Groutville, the future founder of Daughters of Africa, who spent many years in the US and later served as a missionary in West Africa. Ulwazi could probably probe this question with Dr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi and this would be a good piece of oral history.


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