Johaar Mosaval, who grew up in District Six and left South Africa under apartheid to become a senior principal dancer with London’s Royal Ballet, has been hailed as a legend whose perseverance against the odds paved the way for others.
The 95-year-old died peacefully in his sleep at Groote Schuur Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday August 16, according to his youngest sister, Moemina Esmael. He had been living in his family home in Lansdowne.
Dr Mosaval, the eldest of 10 children, was born to Galima and Cassiem Mosaval in Little Lesar Street, opposite the Seven Steps in District Six. The family later moved to Cross Street.
“Johaar’s remarkable skill was evident at an early age. He was involved at the Eoan Group School of Performing Arts throughout the apartheid era,” said Ms Esmael.
“Johaar’s love persisted despite his desire to become a well-known ballet dancer being criticised.”
During apartheid, he left South Africa to pursue his dance dream and went on to carve out an illustrious career as a senior principal dancer with London’s Royal Ballet, between the 1950s and 1970s, and he performed before the late Queen Elizabeth II at her 1953 coronation.
Some of his other notable performances were as Bootface in The Lady and the Fool and Jasper the Pot Boy in Pineapple Poll, both of which were choreographed by John Cranko.
Ms Esmael recalled that her brother had been in London when the family was forced to move out of District Six during the forced removals under apartheid.
“Him not being present at the time and our parents having both passed away was a difficult time, but we managed to get through it.”
Her brother had returned to South Africa in 1976 and had moved into the family home in Lansdowne, where he had stayed until his death, she said.
In March, Dreaming Dance In District Six: The Johaar Mosaval Story, a production narrated by Dr Mosaval, was staged at the Artscape Opera House. It explored Dr Mosaval’s life, recounting how he had defied the odds to pursue his dreams of becoming a ballet dancer.
“It was a very proud moment, not only for Johaar but for the family as well, to witness this masterpiece, and after the show, he was delighted to see us,” Ms Esmael said.
In a statement, Artscape described Dr Mosaval as a legend, saying, “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.”
Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais said, “Johaar Mosaval was a story of triumph in a dark time in our country. He was able to access opportunities for him to follow his passion for dance and he made a huge impact overseas. It is a tragedy and a devastating sign of the cruelty of Apartheid that he was not recognized and celebrated in his own country during that time. We honour him as a legend of our country, who paved the way for other dancers.”
Mourners paid their last respects to Dr Mosaval at Ms Esmael’s Surrey Estate home on Wednesday August 16 before he was laid to rest according to Muslim rites in Constantia.