It is once again Women’s Month and I will again be looking at a few South African women who are (or were) particularly outstanding in their fields. One such woman is Nokutela Dube (1873 – 25 January 1917).
Nokutela Mdima was born in Inanda, Natal. She became a teacher and married a colleague, John Langalibalele Dube in 1894. They travelled to the USA via Britain in 1896 and the Los Angeles Times described her as a “woman of note” in 1898. The New York Tribune said in the same year “She speaks good English with a deliberation that is charming and in the softest voice in the world. Her manner is grace itself”. Christians, they were studying to be missionaries back to their own people. The Woman’s Board of Missions published her story “Africa – the Story of my Life” in 1898.
After returning to South Africa the couple established the Ohlange High School, the first to be established by black teachers. Nokutela founded the school choir, taught music, cooking, housekeeping and tailoring, the latter to professional standards. She is also credited with writing, together with her husband, the Amagama Abantu (Zulu Song Book), a secular song compendium. The Dubes are credited with popularising Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica when it was sung at the South African Native National Congress meeting in 1912.
John Dube became the first president of the South African Native National Congress which became the ANC. Women were not allowed full membership of the organisation, but Nokutela was an important role model for other women.
Nokutela was barren and after twenty years of marriage her husband humiliated her by fathering a child with one of his pupils, after which the couple separated in 1914. She moved to the Transvaal apart from her husband who also moved to Johannesburg. When she became ill with kidney disease she once more took up residence with John Dube until her death in 1917 at the age of only 44. She was buried in an unmarked grave.
Professor Cherif Keita has made a film about her entitled “Remembering Nokutela” which will premiere next month in the USA.