SA ballet giant Johaar Mosaval dies at 95

Johaar Mosaval. Picture: Facebook

Johaar Mosaval. Picture: Facebook

Published Aug 16, 2023


One of the great pioneering forces in South African ballet, Johaar Mosaval, died on August 16, at the age of 95.

Artscape Theatre confirmed Mosaval’s passing.

“Artscape is saddened by the news that one of its own has passed away. Johaar Mosaval was our living legend,” read the statement.

According to a statement issued by the family, 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.

The statement read: “Subsequently, he was admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital on Thursday, June 22, 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 3, he was readmitted to the hospital due to severe dehydration. He passed away in the early hours of Wednesday, August 16. May his soul rest in peace.

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

Born in District Six on January 8, 1928, Mosaval’s journey took him from the streets of Cape Town to international stages, where he defied racial barriers and became a pioneer in the ballet world.

He rose to prominence as one of the first black South African ballet dancers, making a significant impact as a principal dancer with England’s Royal Ballet during the 1960s.

His 25-year career with the Royal Ballet allowed him to showcase his incredible talent on global stages.

After retiring from performing in 1975, Mosaval transitioned into teaching and mentoring the next generation of dancers.

He completed the Professional Dancer’s Teaching Diploma from the Royal Opera House and was recognised for his contributions with the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship award from the British Queen Mother.

This award enabled him to study contemporary dance and jazz in the US, expanding his artistic horizons even further.

Upon returning to Cape Town in 1976, Mosaval continued to break barriers.

He became the first black dancer to perform at the whites-only Nico Malan Opera House (now Artscape) and the first black South African to appear on local TV.

Despite the challenges of apartheid-era South Africa, Mosaval remained committed to his principles of non-racial inclusivity and access to ballet education.

In 1977, he opened a ballet school, providing opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to learn and excel in the art of dance.

In 2019, Mosaval was awarded The Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for his exceptional contribution to the performing arts.

The award not only recognised his technical prowess as a ballet dancer but also acknowledged the inspirational message of hope and determination that he conveyed through his work.

In March, Artscape staged “The Johaar Mosaval Story”. His life story was captured in “Dreaming Dance in District 6 – The Johaar Mosaval Story”.

Co-directed by Basil Appollis and choreographer Grant van Ster, the production is a tribute to the life and legacy of Johaar Mosaval, showcasing his journey from District Six to becoming a prominent figure in the world of ballet.

The production featured Joburg Ballet, Jazzart, and Figure of 8 Dance Collective, along with a cast of talented young dancers from Cape Town.

This collaborative effort captured the essence of his message of unity, perseverance, and belief in one's abilities, which was one of Mosaval’s ethos.

“Dreaming Dance in District Six: The Johaar Mosaval Story” not only preserves Mosaval’s memory but also carries forward his legacy of breaking barriers, defying odds, and using dance as a means of spreading hope and positivity.

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

Mosaval was laid to rest on Wednesday. The funeral service took place in Surrey Estate, Cape Town.