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Marah Louw: Remembering Mama Africa

Entertainment
Below is an excerpt taken from It’s Me, Marah by Marah Louw, which is published by Blackbird Books.

I first met Mama Miriam Makeba in the flesh after she returned from exile in 1990. I don’t know why we didn’t find our way to each other sooner. I had always loved her; she was my role model and inspiration. When I was a little girl, I loved singing her famous song Intonga zama khwenkwe (The Retreat Song).

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Marah Louw. Picture: Supplied

I would stand on a chair in the kitchen and belt it out.

Although I travelled extensively during her exile, I never met or even communicated with her. It was only after she came back home that I got my chance. The day before her arrival I was called to a meeting at Dorkay House to organise a welcome reception for her at the airport.

The next morning, a crowd of fans and artists waited in the arrivals hall to meet her. I was in the VIP lounge with a big bouquet of flowers. In the months that followed, I developed a close and deep friendship with Mama Afrika.

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During the meeting at Dorkay House, Sis Queenith asked me to call musician and actress Dolly Rathebe and ask if she too would grace us with her presence at the airport. I made the call and put her on speakerphone. Sis Dolly was livid; I cannot repeat her words. After I hung up, Sis Queenith explained that the two women had a tumultuous history and some unfinished business.

That evening, I called Sis Dolly and tried to plead with her, telling her how much I looked up to them both, but my plea was rejected in the strongest terms. I hoped Sis Dolly would show up at the airport the next morning, but she did not.

This bothered me for a long time until one day when Mazi, as Mama Makeba was affectionately called, and I had become friends and I felt comfortable enough to express my view on her and Sis Dolly. Mama Miriam said, ‘Mina mntanami angazi ukuthi sibangani noSis Dolly, I would like to see her one day.’

That was my cue to arrange something. I organised a party at my house and I invited Sis Dolly, Buti Jonas Gwangwa and his wife Ousi Violet, and Miriam. Everyone arrived on time except for Sis Dolly; she was a bit late.

I had the front door open and when you walked into the house you could see the people sitting on the patio. When Sis Dolly saw Miriam, she wanted to turn around and go home. I pleaded with her to respect my humble invitation and eventually she agreed to join my guests.

Mazi was excited to see her; she got up from her chair and embraced Dolly. I was stunned. Mazi showed no discomfort and the rest of us joined in the celebration of these two legends meeting after so many years.

Although there was a bit of tension between the two women, I wanted to get them to talk privately. I took them to an upstairs room and asked them to sit down and iron out their differences peacefully. I said, ‘Bosisi bam, niyazi ukuthi ndiyanithanda? And ndikhathazekile xa ndibona ngathi anivani kakuhle, ngoku ndicela ukuthi, nike nithethe nixazulule le ngxaki yenu’ – I was a bit commanding – ‘Ningalinge niphume apha kule kamere ningagqibanga ukuthetha.’

Miriam Makeba. Picture: Supplied

They giggled as I closed the door and left them to it. When I went back downstairs, Bra Gwangwa asked to be excused because of another engagement. I was a bit suspicious but I let him go. After he left, his wife, Sis Violet whispered to me that Gwangwa was a bit worried that those two women might fight, and he didn’t want to be a witness.

About an hour later, I went back upstairs to check on Sis Dolly and Mama Makeba, and found them laughing and joking. I didn’t want to know the details; I was just satisfied that peace had been achieved.

We all went back downstairs and had fun. The friendship between Miriam and Dolly was reignited and they remained close until Sis Dolly passed away in 2004. I was happy that I played a big part in reuniting these legends. Many years later, Mama Makeba asked me to organise a tribute show for Dolly who was our first film star and a queen of the screen.

@uHelenH

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