Artscape celebrates the life of Dr. Johaar Mosaval

Artscape is saddened by the news that one of its own has passed away. Johaar Mosaval was our living legend. In March of 2023, Artscape hosted ‘The Johaar Mosaval Story’. His life story was encapsulated in ‘Dreaming Dance In District 6’. What made this production even more meaningful was that he narrated his own story on stage. A son of District 6 who defied all odds during the Apartheid era to become the world’s top ballet dancer who danced at Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee celebrations. His message of hope, self-belief, perseverance, hard work, defying the odds, believing in his abilities, and sharing his talent, is the legacy he has left behind for future generations.

He was a kind, beautiful soul. Rest softly Johaar Mosaval.

Johaar Mosaval was born to Cassiem and Galima Mosaval on 8 January 1928 in Lesar Street District Six, straight opposite the Seven Steps.

He was the eldest of ten children, his mother was a seamstress and his father came from a family of builders.

From a young age, Johaar’s undeniable talent shone through. He excelled as an athlete, swimmer, and gymnast and frequently appeared in popular pantomimes at Cape Town City Hall. Despite being ridiculed for his dream of becoming a famous ballet dancer, Johaar’s passion remained unwavering.

At the age of 19, he was given the chance to start ballet training at the University of Cape Town Ballet School by Dulcie Howes.

An opportunity for further training in England became possible, and with the support of friends and the Muslim Progressive Society’s fundraising efforts, he successfully travelled to London.  Remarkably, he completed a three-year training program in just eighteen months, showcasing his determination and drive to succeed.

Johaar’s talent did not go unnoticed in the UK, and he was offered a contract to join the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later known as the Royal Ballet, which was regarded as one of the most prestigious ballet companies globally.

He overcame racial inequalities and significant challenges, namely his short statue, breaking barriers by becoming the first African to dance in a global ballet company. Despite the odds, he swam against the tide and achieved this remarkable feat.

His career flourished as he performed all over the world and shared stages with renowned ballet stars of his time. A standout moment in his career was a solo performance for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, which he described as one of the most exciting moments of his life. Johaar fondly remembered being presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during the interval and felt like he was “floating on cloud nine.”

 Over the years, Johaar achieved the rank of SENIOR PRINCIPAL, the highest ranking in a ballet company, with the Royal Ballet in London. He remained with the Royal Ballet for an impressive 25 years, retiring from performances at the age of 48, following a Royal command performance for the Queen Mother. Johaar was the Queen Mother’s favourite dancer at the Royal Ballet.

Upon returning to South Africa, Johaar took on the role of ballet inspector for the maligned Coloured Affairs Department. However, he found this job unsuited to his artistic nature. Eventually, he opened successful ballet schools around Cape Town, passionately passing on his valuable skills and knowledge in the discipline of ballet.

Johaar received numerous awards in South Africa and the UK.

To name a few:

•          The Winston Churchhill Award

•          Lifetime Achievement award for Dance from The Arts and Culture Trust

•          Ihkamanga in Gold from President Ramaposa

•          Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town in 2020.

Two tribute shows were brought to life to celebrate and honour the incredible milestones in the life of our dear Johaar.

The first was staged in 2018, a full-length production with Cape Town City to mark the occasion of his 90th birthday. And just recently, in March 2023, a second production reflecting his remarkable life story, was staged by District Six Museum and Artscape, again to commemorate a remarkable 95 years of a life well-lived.

What makes these events truly special is that Johaar graced the stage at all the performances, taking the moment to bask in the spotlight. The audience responded with rapturous applause, and the standing ovations were a testament to the admiration and respect that our Johaar has garnered over the years. This resounding display of appreciation further attests to the profound impact and enduring significance that Johaar had on the audience, underscoring his enduring legacy.

He is survived by his beloved younger sisters, Gadija and Moegmina Esmael.

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.

Subsequently, he was admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital on Thursday, June 22th, 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.

A huge gratitude to the doctors, nurses and staff at Groote Schuur Hospital.