U.S. professor Keita moved at Durban response to his Dube film

2013-08-26 00:00

A TEARFUL Chérif Keita was overwhelmed at the response to the rough cut of his documentary film, Ukukhumbula Nokutela (Remembering Nokutela), shown to invited guests as well as delegates attending an ANC Women in Leadership conference marking 100 years of the ANC Women’s League at Coastlands Hotel near the Durban beachfront on Saturday.

Keita, from Mali, but long resident in the U.S. where he is a professor of French and Francophone African and Caribbean literatures at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, was billed to give a lecture titled “Nokutela Dube: Liberation Pioneer, Forgotten Heroine”, but opted instead to show the film about his work unearthing the largely forgotten story of John Langalibalele Dube’s first wife, Nokutela, née Mdima.

“I came here with the intention of bringing her back — she has been left in the dark for too long,” Keita told the audience, which included members of the Dube and Mdima families.

Keita has spent over a decade uncovering the history of Dube, first president of the ANC, creator of the Ohlange Institute at Inanda and founder of the newspaper Ilanga lase Natal.

Keita made the award-winning documentary Oberlin-Inanda: The Life and Times of John L. Dube, that linked the story of Inanda to Dube’s education in the U.S.. He followed up with Cemetery Stories: A Rebel Missionary in South Africa, detailing the previously untold story of the American missionary the Reverend William Wilcox, under whose wing Dube first went to the U.S. Keita also organised the Wilcox descendants’ visit to South Africa in 2007 to meet the Dube family.

“I wanted to make a film on Nokutela because I felt her story needs to be told,” Keita said, adding that a school essay by the 13-year-old Nokutela had been published in the local newspaper in Northfield, Minnesota, the Wilcoxes’ home town and Keita’s, in 1882. “It was as though she had left that school essay for me to find and then to go looking for her — it’s as if she was calling me.”

In 2011, Keita located the unmarked grave of Nokutela in Brixton cemetery, Johannesburg, and a marker stone was subsequently placed at its head. Later this week, a full-length engraved tombstone will be unveiled.

Dube married Nokutela Mdima in 1894. The couple made several visits to the U.S., mainly to raise funds to realise their joint vision of an independent school for Africans, what would become the Ohlange Institute at Inanda.

A talented musician, Nokutela built up the musical culture that became a hallmark of Ohlange and was also in charge of the sewing school. The garments made by her and her students were of such high quality, they were sold in department stores in Durban.

However, the couple became estranged after Dube had a child by another woman. “The marriage didn’t end very well,” said Keita, “and Nokutela went to live, first near Wakkerstroom, and later in Sophiatown in Johannesburg.” She died there in 1917 and was subsequently buried in the Brixton Cemetery, her grave recorded in the burial register as CK9763. The CK stands for “Christian K*****”.

Dube married Angelina Khumalo in 1920. They had six children. Dube died in 1946. Lulu Dube, the last surviving of Dube’s children, was present at Saturday’s function.

Nokutela Dube will be posthumously awarded the 2013 Gandhi Development Trust Satyagraha award during a function at the Durban City Hall at 5 pm today.

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