Pretoria – Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria (UP), has initiated an Artist in Residency Fellowship Programme to be based at the university's Future Africa Research Institute, with Dr Nokuthula Mazibuko Msimang being appointed as the inaugural fellow.

The programme has been established for the purpose of advancing the humanities through the arts to specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Dr Mazibuko Msimang will conduct research, document and publish a manuscript on the life of local musician and artist Dolly Rathebe, who is widely considered to be Africa's first black female film star.

"I want to congratulate Dr Mazibuko Msimang on her appointment, and wish her well in her new role – we look forward to working with her at the Future Africa Research Institute," said Prof Kupe. "The Future Africa Research Institute is a continental asset for collaborative transdisciplinary research, and produces knowledge for transformative impact."

Dr Mazibuko Msimang is a writer, academic, producer and broadcaster who holds degrees from the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and has a PhD in African Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She possesses the requisite knowledge, capacity, expertise and experience to satisfy the expectations of the fellowship and will become an artist-in-residence from 1 August 2021 for a two-year period.

"I am delighted to receive this fellowship and the opportunity to celebrate the amazing legacy of Mam Dolly Rathebe, writing about a woman who was larger than life," says Dr Mazibuko Msimang. "Rathebe is part of a celebrated pantheon of mega stars who held Africa captive with their velvety voices and seductive jazzy melodies. Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu, Dorothy Masuka and Dolly Rathebe were at the very top of a musical renaissance in the 50s – a renaissance that created global legends in music, fine art, writing, movies and journalism. Rathebe was so much more than just a songbird. Her life story tells future generations about a time and place so unbelievable, it is as if it never happened."

Dr Mazibuko Msimang has been creating values-based content for young people on multiple platforms for the past 25 years, and is part of the Puku Children's Literature network where she works on Special Projects. Her six published books for young readers are In the Fast Lane (2003, New Africa Books, translated into isiXhosa by Dr Xolisa Guzula); A Mozambican Summer (2005, New Africa Books); Spring Offensive (2006, Timbila); Love Songs for Nheti (2006, Vivlia); Freedom Song (2008, Pearson); and Qhawe! Mokgadi Caster Semenya (2021, New Africa Books), which celebrates the life of the champion gold medallist.

Her books for young readers celebrate positive cultural and social values, and encourage self-love, confidence, courage and resilience. In 2003, she was awarded the Bessie Head writing fellowship, which enabled her to complete and publish the collective biography Spring Offensive.

Dr Mazibuko Msimang's films have covered issues related to women's empowerment, popular culture, politics and music. She has written and directed the following films for local and African channels: Lady was a Mshoza (1999), The Gift of Song (2000), The Spirit of No Surrender (2006) and Mantswe a Bonono (2005). Her TV writing credits include the award-winning shows Soul City, Takalani Sesame and Molo Fish II, and several educational television and radio shows. The Soul City IV series she wrote for was nominated for an Avanti Award.

She has worked for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and British Broadcasting Corporation and lectured for the Academic Support Programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the Wits School of Performing Arts and African Literature. She currently lectures part-time and supervises master's students at AFDA, the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance. Dr Mazibuko Msimang has presented her work at various conferences nationally and internationally, and is interested in narratives of peace, healing, courage, music and motherhood.

"The arts play a vital role in holding a mirror up to society, and Dr Mazibuko Msimang has played a significant role in telling our uniquely South African stories," Prof Kupe said. "We welcome her and look forward to her research."