The house that Dorothy built
By Bruce Ndlovu
It is one of the most famous houses in Old Pumula. When one asks for directions to Dorothy Masuka’s house in the old suburb, they will find a sympathetic ear ready to hear them out and an eager finger ready to point the direction towards the house.
But when approaching the place that the jazz legend once called home, one can see that the house perched on a corner has lost the glamour that it might have had when the owner bought it. It is a far cry from the family home in the middle to high income area of Mulbarton, south of Johannesburg, where the cameras rushed when she passed away last Saturday.
The walls of the house look like they are thirsty for a fresh coat of paint. The concrete slab on the way towards the front door of the house has also been a victim of time, with wear and tear leaving it unrecognisable from the boulders that are in the front yard. A vending stall, ran by a long time tenant of the house, is the only sign of life.
Built on a steep incline, rumour has it that Aunty Dot’s house was once majestic, standing tall among the houses in that little patch of Old Pumula. Now, with her death, the house might have lost the one thing that made it famous.
A tenant told Sunday Life that the late singer’s granddaughter had instructed them not to speak to the media while funeral proceedings took place in South Africa. Masuka will be buried at Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg today.
“We’ve been getting a lot of attention this week and her grandchild lives nearby and before she left for South Africa on Thursday she told us not to talk to anyone. So that is what we have been told by the family. They felt that after speaking to a few media outlets this week we shouldn’t talk to anyone anymore,” the tenant said.
Despite the oath of silence, she revealed that Aunty Dot was a regular visitor to her house over the years.
“She used to come here regularly. She was someone that was always visiting the house and when she was around she would pop in to see how things were. She used to visit especially her sister, MaNyathi. She would come around regularly but unfortunately her sister passed away. I think this was around 2016. She also came for that funeral,” the tenant said.
In another interview, Masuka’s daughter, one of her five children, Valentine Machaya revealed how Masuka had lost her health doing what she loved the most — singing. In a cruel twist of fate, Masuka suffered a stroke while she was rehearsing for Nelson Mandela’s tribute concert.
“She was fine. We had no idea that she would be passing away. We thought that she would recover because she was someone who was always strong. Her problems started when she was preparing for the Mandela commemoration.
“It was during the rehearsal that she was struck down by stroke. She still insisted she wanted to perform but even when she was on stage she was not feeling well. She was never the same after that but we believed that she would get better,” she said.
According to Machaya, 82-year-old Aunty Dot seemed in good health before the incident at the end of last year.
“She was someone that we felt will get better because before the Mandela gig she never looked like she would fall ill. She looked healthy and we never thought she could be struck down by illness. In the days before she passed however, you could see even in her eyes that she knew that she was going. She looked like she knew that these were her last days,” she said.
This week, perhaps because South Africa is where she settled in her later years, media in that country have dominated with coverage of her demise. Her Zimbabwean roots have seemed almost secondary as she is eulogised as a South African legend. Machaya said Masuka, despite being a self proclaimed citizen of the whole of Africa, Masuka had not forgotten her country of birth.
“She belonged to all of Africa. As her children we know that she never said I love this place more than the other. She would never say I love South Africa or Zimbabwe or Ghana but she would say I’m an African through and through. But the one thing about her is that she loved Bulawayo. She loved the city and she loved its culture and its people,” she said.
Machaya said her mother, before she picked up the microphone, had been a beauty queen in the City of Kings. In fact, she was once crowned Miss Mzilikazi and had used the money from that triumph to buy her house.
“Some people may not know this but as a young girl she won a beauty contest and was crowned Miss Mzilikazi. In those days it was a pretty big deal and she told us that the first house she owned was from money that she won contesting in Miss Mzilikazi. These were some of the stories that she used to share with us to illustrate how much Bulawayo as a city meant to her. Before her stroke last year she wanted to return to Bulawayo. There were shows planned at the end of last year but she could not come because of the illness,” she said.
Machaya said they had wanted people in the city where she was born and bred to celebrate her life but logistics had made it difficult. When Sunday Life visited her home in Old Pumula, almost all the family had gone to South Africa.
“Right now it feels like she’s South African. This is because all the coverage she’s getting is from South Africa and all the attention is also from here as well. We would have loved to have had a memorial service in Zimbabwe as well. We would have loved to have brought the body to Bulawayo so that people could say their goodbyes. We want to show respect to the city that she comes from and also to show that we have ubuntu and respect tradition,” she said.
Meanwhile, Nhimbe Trust and Bluez Café joined the people of Bulawayo and the world in mourning the passing of Masuka, fondly known as “Auntie Dot”, of humble beginnings in her birthplace of Bulawayo.
“Her song Dr Malan was banned. She lived in exile for 31 years until Zimbabwean Independence, working hard. She travelled the globe from Johannesburg to New York and Lusaka to London, and was loved and celebrated by jazz lovers all over the world,” said the organisation in a statement.