Johaar Mosaval (1928–2023)

16 August 2023 | Compiled by Niémah Davids. Photo Lerato Maduna. Video journalist Niémah Davids. Videography Evan Zerf. Producer Kim Cloete. Video Editor Dan Clayton. Photos in video Brenton Geach and Johaar Mosaval’S Private Collection. Read time 4 min.
Johaar Mosaval during a belated graduation ceremony where he received his UCT honorary doctorate in-person. The initial ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

8 January 1928 – 16 August 2023

The University of Cape Town (UCT) community mourns the passing of respected, celebrated and world-renowned ballet dancer, Johaar Mosaval.

Mosaval, who was 95 years old, died in Cape Town on Wednesday, 16 August. He was laid to rest according to Muslim rites in Constantia that same day.

Celebrated and revered dancer

The highly acclaimed ballet dancer was born and raised on the dusty streets of District Six in Cape Town in 1928, and had a matchless, illustrious career. His story started in the 1950s when he left apartheid South Africa to pursue his life-long dream of a career as a ballet dancer in London. 

And, he succeeded and thrived. In 1953 his performance made history when he took to the stage during the celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – one of the most prestigious events of the 20th century. Few would have believed that it was his first solo performance for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later the Royal Ballet), an internationally renowned ballet company based in Covent Garden, London.

During an interview with UCT News at his home in Lansdowne in 2019, Mosaval, or uncle Johaar as he was fondly known, said being chosen for that performance was “one of the most unexpected things to have ever happened to me”. And that night, he captivated the audience. His three-minute performance was even extended slightly because they enjoyed it so much, and Mosaval was very proud. That performance, he noted, was one of the standout moments of his career.

“…In the end, it was one of the most spectacular evenings that I will remember for the rest of my life,” he said at the time. “…Every king and queen of the world was in attendance. It was absolutely magnificent.”  

A monumental career

His was indeed a monumental career. However, before all the glitz and glamour, Mosaval trained at UCT’s Ballet School, now the Centre for Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. But his classmates did very little to make him feel welcome. They weren’t expecting to share a classroom with a boy of colour, Mosaval recalled in 2019.

“I didn’t enjoy it. I got awful looks from students in the class, like I didn’t belong there. I couldn’t cross a particular line and always had to stand right at the back. I was always on my own. But I told myself to press on regardless,” he added.

He rose above the racism, classism and elitism he experienced at UCT and excelled tremendously in his beloved field of dance. Following multiple outstanding performances, he went on to become an official dancer of Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company in 1952. He also became the first black South African to achieve the status of senior principal dancer at the Royal Ballet, a position he held for more than two decades.

Honours for a legend

In the end, it was the awards and honours at home that meant everything to him.

He received the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold from President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019, and in 2020, UCT awarded him with a Doctor of Music (honoris causa). Both honours recognise South Africans who have excelled in various fields including arts, music, culture and sport, and who have made indelible contributions to the country, the continent and the world.  

The world holds Mosaval’s immense contribution to ballet in high regard. The fresh perspectives he contributed to the medium and the courage and fortitude he displayed to break colossal social barriers, today form part of the legacy he leaves behind.

Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (to God we belong and to Him is our return).

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.