“I didn’t plan to be a singer, singing planned to be in me.” - Dorothy Masuka (interview with Mail & Guardian)
Dorothy Masuka, born 1935 in Bulawayo (then Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe), grew up in South Africa to become a well-known songwriter, composer, jazz singer and activist, a fervent advocate of the struggle against apartheid. Called “an architect of the discourse of popular African liberation music”, Dorothy often sang about politics in indigenous African languages and throughout her work she confronted the racist policies of the South African government.
One such song titled “Dr. Malan” (named after the pro-apartheid politician D.F. Malan) was banned. She went on to record “Lumumba” (1961), a song about the assassination of the anti-colonial leader Patrice Lumumba. Dorothy’s work and activism attracted the attention of the Special Branch of the South African police and she was forced into a political exile that would span over three decades. Throughout this time, she worked with pro-independence groups including the African National Congress. In 1992, as apartheid started to crumble and Nelson Mandela was released from prison, she returned to South Africa.
Some of her other work includes the first song she recorded in 1953 entitled “Hamba Notsokolo”, a hit in the 1950s and a valued classic. She also wrote “El Yow Phata Phata”, a song that was adapted by Miriam Makeba, making “Pata, Pata” popular internationally.
Rooted in resistance, Dorothy’s music and activism were intertwined, leaving a magnificent and inspiring legacy. She was also widely known as “Auntie Dot”.
On 23 February 2019 at the age of 83, Dorothy passed away in Johannesburg due to ill health.