Honorary doctorate for renowned ballet master

12 March 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues and students

The autumn graduation ceremonies for the University of Cape Town (UCT) will take place from Thursday, 19 March to Saturday, 28 March. During this period, we will recognise hundreds of our students who have toiled to complete their degrees across our six faculties. It is also a tradition of our university that during these events we pay homage to individuals who have contributed immensely to the development of society at large.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that this year UCT will bestow high academic honour through an honorary doctorate awarded to renowned Cape Town ballet master, Johaar Mosaval. He will be awarded the Doctor of Music (honoris causa) degree.

Mosaval was born in District Six, Cape Town, in 1928. His ambition from a very early age to become a famous ballet dancer was unheard of in the Muslim community of the time. After participation in gymnastics at school and acting in pantomimes in the Cape Town City Hall, he began private ballet classes with Jasmine Honoré. He was later introduced to Dulcie Howes, pioneer and doyenne of ballet in South Africa, who offered him the opportunity to train for three years at the UCT Ballet School.

Access to the study of ballet was extremely limited for persons defined as “coloured” under apartheid, and the challenges to succeed in this intensive art-making process were many. With the assistance of friends and the Muslim Progressive Society, Mosaval left South Africa to take up a place in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet Company in England. He followed this ground-breaking achievement with a quick rise to the rank of soloist in 1956, principal dancer in 1960, and finally senior principal dancer of the Royal Ballet by 1965.

After 25 years as senior principal dancer, Mosaval became one of the first dancers to enrol for the Professional Dance Teaching Diploma from the Royal Academy of Dance, which enabled him to open a ballet studio when he finally returned to South Africa. Mosaval was a strong advocate for the study of ballet in local schools, particularly those located in “coloured” townships. 

At this time, Mosaval was also the inspector of ballet for the Administration of Coloured Affairs. It should be noted that very few people, regardless of colour, had his expertise in his field, and he had become a pioneer, a leader, and a teacher. His role in the administration contributed to the raising of standards, and in addition, showed great bravery. UCT can also be said to have been inspired by Mosaval to develop a more inclusive approach to dance. His work facilitated the entry into the school in 1981 of its current and first black director, Gerard Samuel.

Over the course of his career, Mosaval has been the recipient of many awards, including the Winston Churchill Award (1975), Queen Elizabeth II Gold Jubilee Medal (1977), Western Cape Arts, Culture and Heritage Award (1999), Western Cape Premier’s Commendation Certificate (2003), Cape Tercentenary Foundation Molteno Gold Medal (2005), and the Arts and Culture Trust Lifetime Achievement Award for Dance (2016). Most recently, he was presented with The Order of Ikhamanga in Gold by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March 2019.

There is no doubt about the enormous contribution made by Mosaval to ballet and to community empowerment. He performed at the highest levels of professionalism, both at home and abroad, contributed fresh perspectives to the medium, and broke colossal social barriers along the way. He is highly respected within the dance performance community locally and internationally.

We are proud to recognise Mosaval’s contribution through an honorary degree.

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