Theatre fraternity pays homage to Dr Johaar Mosaval by sharing his remarkable legacy

Published Aug 16, 2023


Dr Johaar Mosaval's remarkable journey and achievements have left an indelible impression in the performing arts, transcending the odds stacked against him.

Mosaval passed away on Wednesday, August 16, at Groote Schuur Hospital. He was 95.

The family confirmed his passing in a statement shared with Independent Media.

“Dr Johaar Mosaval sustained an injury three months ago, which gradually led to debilitating pain and restricted his freedom of movement, significantly impairing his mobility. This injury precipitated a notable decline in his overall health” read the family statement.

“Subsequently, he was admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital on Thursday, June 22nd, where a diagnosis of severe osteoarthritis in his spine was established. During his two-week hospital stay, he underwent treatment and focused on recuperation.

“Upon his discharge, Dr Mosaval returned to his home, where he received ongoing support from dedicated caregivers who attended to his medical requirements and personal well-being.

“However, Dr Mosaval's health took another unfortunate turn. On Thursday, August 3rd, he was readmitted to the hospital due to severe dehydration. He passed away in the early hours of Wednesday 16th August. May his soul rest in peace.”

Despite facing numerous challenges, Mosaval's determination and passion for dance propelled him to become one of the most successful dancers of his time.

Born in District Six during the apartheid era, his achievements in the arts were a testament to his resilience and ability to overcome prejudices and obstacles that might have deterred others.

Theatre legends Terry Fortune, Basil Appollis and Marlene le Roux, the CEO of the Artscape Theatre Centre, have praised Mosaval's ability to push barriers and succeed despite all odds.

“Being born in District Six, during the apartheid years was extremely difficult for anyone to be able to achieve much, particularly in the arts,” said Fortune.

“This was a time and place where a boy doing ballet was frowned upon. Johaar overcame those kinds of prejudice and become one of the most successful dancers of our time.

“And it is wonderful that we had the opportunity to celebrate his achievements over the past years. We need to honour our artists while they are still alive. Johaar was one of our most loved dancers. May he rest in peace.”

Echoing Fortune’s sentiment, Appollis said the layers of difficulties and obstacles defined Mosaval's remarkable journey.

Appollis wrote and directed a tribute dance piece titled “Dreaming Dance in District Six: The Johaar Mosaval Story,” which was staged at the Artscape in March.

“At the beginning of this year, I had the honour of writing his story for the Artscape Opera House,” said Appollis.

“The challenge for me was to put 95 years into 90 minutes but the biggest compliment was to have Johaar tell his own story.

“What attracted me to his story was all the difficulties that he had to overcome. Apart from growing up in apartheid South Africa, he always described this memory very vividly of dancing behind the line at the UCT Ballet School because he wasn't allowed allowed to dance with the white students.

“The university was white, so he had to be sneaked in to attend ballet classes. He had to be sneaked into the city hall to meet up with some British dancers who came to South Africa.

“And that is when he got his first opportunity to dance in London. And besides all of that, there were religious difficulties. It was frowned upon for a Muslim boy to become a ballet dancer.”

“And then, in the dance world, he was a very short man, so his height was also against him. But Johaar became a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London.

“This is a boy who grew up in District Six, who couldn't dance, in opera houses in South Africa, but went on to dance in England.

“He described the highlight of his career as a dancing solo at Queen Elizabeth's second coronation,” Appollis recounted.

The challenges continued even when he returned to South Africa, performing at the very opera house where he had been denied as a young man.

“What drew me more to his story, apart from his achievements, were the challenges that he had to overcome when he came back to South Africa at the opera house where we paid tribute to him earlier this year. It was in that very opera house that was denied for Johaar to dance as a young man.

“He was forced to drive with his make-up because there were no dressing rooms for black people and the toilets were for whites only. He wasn’t allowed to touch a white dancer with his bear hands. He had to wear gloves.

“In spite of all that, he was never bitter. He used to ‘If I had to be born again today, I want to be Johaar.”

According to Appollis Mosaval's story encapsulates the essence of hope, determination, and the ability to overcome insurmountable challenges.

Le Roux captured the impact he had on the arts community and the lives of those he touched.

“A legend in his own right, Johaar was for me a big brother in the arts, an artistic giant who never stopped inspiring me and many others to reach for the top, to be the best we can be, and to never give up,” said Le Roux.

“I had the privilege of visiting him in his final moments at his mother's home in Athlone, alongside Fatima Allie and his dear friend Sharon Paulsen.

“Even in his last moments, he exuded the spirit of a true ballet dancer, lying with his feet in first position, hands crossed, and a faint smile. His presence was a testament to the indomitable spirit that defined his life.

“I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to accompany him on his final journey at Artscape with his production honouring his legacy earlier this year: 'Dreaming Dance in District Six: The Johaar Mosaval Story.' Seeing him on stage, receiving standing ovations night after night, and greeting everyone in the Marble Foyer was a humbling and unforgettable experience.

“As South Africans, we were fortunate to call this great ballet legend from District Six our own. His illustrious 25-year international career with the Royal Ballet took him to the grandest opera houses around the world alongside luminaries like Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn.

“And he returned home to inspire, teach, and guide those who looked up to him. His journey has come full circle.

“Dr Johaar Mosaval's legacy will always be remembered. Rest in peace, Hamba kahle, Johaar. You have left an indelible mark on us all."

Mosaval was be laid to rest this afternoon in Cape Town.