September 5, 2017

Dolly Rathebe

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 3:20 pm

I remember walking with Dolly in central Joburg. We were walking down a street behind the High Court when we saw a jewellery shop. We entered the shop. A white lady came. I told her that we wanted to have a look at their rings. She picked up a key as she went to a locked glass display cabinet. She took out a velvet board full of gold and diamond rings and put it in front of us. I waited for her to make a mistake, and she did. With the swiftness of a panther, I had already taken one of the rings and with my nimble fingers put it in my pocket when she temporarily looked the other way. We later told her she could take the tray back because we were done and that we did not see anything we liked. She looked puzzled as she looked at the tray again and told us that there was a ring missing. There was a parley for a few minutes; we wanted to know if the insinuation was that we had stolen the ring. Nervous, she explained that she was only saying there was a missing ring.

“Are you accusing us of stealing the ring? Are you accusing my fiancé of stealing from this shop? Why are you doing this?” Dolly screamed at her.

“Did you see us taking any ring?”

“No, I did not. That is why I’m not sure really. I ‘ll have to call the boss,” said the lady.

The bespectacled boss came. He was calm, listening patiently to her as she related the story. He then listened to what Dolly and I had to say. During the conversation, I took out my wallet, which had four, big ten-pound notes in it.

“Here is my money, sir. Perhaps this lady thinks I’m just a loafer. I had come to buy a ring here; I am not a useless lay-about!” I screamed with Dolly joining me in the protest song.

Soon the boss apologised and bade us goodbyes. Down the street, Dolly was stunned to see me take out the ring and putting it around her finger, smiling.

Dolly became a great housewife who loved children. During the years we were in PE. I worked at the Bay Bus Company and I did not want her to work because although we were not rich, we were managing financially. She was loyal to her family and even pushing the showbiz life aside, sacrificing fame for her role as a housewife. She wanted to settle down, stop singing and raise her children. PE offered the kind of refuge she wanted at the time. Many of her friends visited her while she stayed with me at 46 Mendi Road and they’d share reminiscing conversations about the good old days in Sophiatown.

Our first child was a boy, Smilo, soon followed by a girl, Nontsikelelo.

I tried by all means to make Dolly happy. She never showed any signs of being unhappy in PE, although she always suggested to me that we should find a place of our own rather than stay at my parents’ place. We had our problems at times though. In fact, I later realised that Dolly was not entirely happy in New Brighton.

One evening I could not find her at home. I decided to go and look for her at 1 Ntshinga Street where her friend Ms Msengana lived. She was not there and I thought that maybe there was a problem with one of the children so I went to the family doctor’s surgery but Dolly was not there. No one had seen her. I then decided to go look at her relative May Cetu’s place in White Location. There was a party at the house and I could not see Dolly amongst those many ladies. May herself told me that Dolly never came to her place that day. I was about to leave when I decided to go into the room and boom right there behind the door was Dolly hiding. She had apparently been drinking. I was incensed and ended up beating everyone in the house, creating mayhem.

Then there was the day Dolly left PE, and her marriage. It was a long weekend and the Basin Blues had a show in East London. I gave Dolly the 84 pounds that was my share from a recent show around PE and told her I’d be back the following Monday.

But when I got off the lorry on the Monday back home, Dolly was not there. On the bed, the bare pillows lay on the floor and the bed had neither blankets nor sheets. My brother Touchy told me that Dolly had left. She had taken the 84 pounds, dishes, blankets, cutlery and other small things. I immediately thought of my revolver, hidden under one of the broken planks on the floor. It was gone. I sat down wondering, confused. I was not going to go fetch Dolly, I decided.

Then a few months later, she started writing me letters telling me that she was remorseful and was planning to come back to her marriage. Almost every month she would send her few items of clothing stating that she was preparing for her return. I wanted my Dolly back home.

Then I heard that she was in an Alfred Herbert show. The show was visiting PE but I got a call from the director, Alfred himself, informing me that no Dolly was not with the cast.

She had apparently met and fallen in love with an American called Smith, who wanted to marry her. It was during this time that Dolly filed for divorce. In court papers, Dolly gave three reasons for the divorce: that I did not have my own house; that I had twin children in Grahamstown; and that I had a child with one of the Pemba daughters. So our four-year-old marriage came to an end.

However, later that evening, I hooked up with Dolly and we spent the night together at the Alabama Hotel where she was renting a room.

Not long after we had parted, I heard that Dolly had gotten married to John Smith.

Then years later, she would call me every time she visited PE. She would invite me, give me a complimentary ticket and ask people to send me backstage. She was uncomfortable though when I visited her in Cape Town where she ran a shebeen in Elsies River. She became restless even though we have always had a place for each other in our hearts.

Dolly Rathebe will remain special because she bore the Durus those two children. When her chapter ended in Pretoria and her heart stopped beating, I knew she would sing somewhere in the skies above.

– The Black Train Rising: The Life and Times of Welcome Duru, by (Professor) Vuyisile Msila.

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