In Summary
  • Dube was one of the founding parents of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. She was one of the first black South African women to travel, study and live abroad and she was one of the founders of the famous Ohlange Educational Institute in Natal, where she taught the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Luthuli.
  • Nokutela also worked on the first African language newspaper, Ilanga laseNatali (The Sun of Natal), first published in 1903. She was also the person most responsible for the popularisation of the iconic “African” anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica (God bless Africa).
  • So, Nokutela had an astounding record of activity and achievement to her name. Indeed, the main surprise about her winning South Africa’s most distinguished honour was that it had taken so long for her to be publicly recognised.

To most of us in East Africa, the name Dube evokes that rasta-haired reggae crooner, South African Lucky Dube, best remembered for his emblematic poem, “Different colours, one people”.

So, when I saw the news item about a Dube being awarded a major South African national decoration, I assumed that it was this worthy artist being posthumously recognised by his country.

But I was wrong. The Dube in the news item had a lot to do with music all right, as we shall see presently. But she was a woman, and from an era more than a century before Lucky Dube. She is also a lot more significant to South Africa and the world than the dear departed reggae artiste. Indeed, I felt thoroughly embarrassed that I had never heard of Nokutela Mdima Dube until last week.

You probably know her story. After all, there is quite a lot about her, even online, including an endearing “docuvideo” called ukukhumbula uNokutela Dube. That sounds much like Kiswahili “kukumbuka Nokutela” (remembering Nokutela), and that is what it actually is, a good illustration of the linguists’ claim that isiZulu and Kiswahili come from one common stock called “Protobantu”, or Bantu mame, as the Swahili scholars call it.

Anyway, Nokutela Dube, this year’s winner of South Africa’s highest civic honour, the Order of the Golden Baobab, was one of the founding parents of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa.

She was one of the first black South African women to travel, study and live abroad and she was one of the founders of the famous Ohlange Educational Institute in Natal, where she taught the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Albert Luthuli.

AMERICAN FRIENDS

Nokutela also worked on the first African language newspaper, Ilanga laseNatali (The Sun of Natal), first published in 1903. She was also the person most responsible for the popularisation of the iconic “African” anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica (God bless Africa), commonly attributed to her husband, John Langalibalele Dube.

So, Nokutela had an astounding record of activity and achievement to her name. Indeed, the main surprise about her winning South Africa’s most distinguished honour was that it had taken so long for her to be publicly recognised.

The other surprise, for me as I have already admitted, was that I had remained totally ignorant of her and her inspiration. With my love of and admiration for strong, assertive women, I should have been on intimate terms with her.

But I found several other particularly heart-warming and mind-opening nuances in the lady’s story. One of these was, obviously, her far-sightedness and, especially, her emphasis on education as the primary tool of empowerment of the African and, especially, the African woman.

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