Robbed of another great man in my life
Dispossessed. That’s how I feel today. Robbed. I haven’t felt this way since I was a little boy in KwaThema, when S’thembile robbed me of my grandmother’s R10. Gogo had sent me to buy meat at the hostel butchery.
He tricked me, the bloody bastard. He was a friend, or at least I thought he was. We used to play together, even though he was older than me. So when he came to chat, I suspected nothing. After all, he was a harmless churchgoing boy. When he asked to see if my R10 and his were the same size, I thought: “Why not?”
He put one of top of the other. They were indeed the same size. Then he put them both in his pocket.
There was a little forest nearby, and he asked me to accompany him there so he could go to the toilet – as boys, we did that all the time. As you squatted together, all you needed to do was blow with your mouth closed, and, according to legend, that would prevent your mother’s breasts from swelling, wherever she was.
We were hardly in the forest when he turned around and shouted: “Voetsek!” Then he slapped me on the cheek. I resisted, but then I remembered the Sepedi adage: “To retreat is not to surrender.” So I walked back home and told my older brother, Bra Pat.
We went back and looked for him, but we didn’t find him. We went back that night, but he wasn’t there. Forty years have passed, and I still haven’t seen S’thembile.
I feel dispossessed again today. Death has robbed me of a brilliant young man, Mandla Khoza, who worked for me at TBWA \Hunt\ Lascaris. I appointed him as a business manager and his first task in his new role was to tender for the 2010 World Cup – a once-in-a-lifetime event. He worked tirelessly.
An hour after the tender had closed, Mandla walked into my office. “You look tired,” I said. “Eish,” he said. “How did it go?” “I was late,” he replied. I asked what had happened. He tried to find an excuse.
“Don’t do it again,” I told him, and he never did. Instead, he brought the group more than R400 million in new business.
One day he walked into my office to report that, while I was overseas, he had put together a tender for Mpumalanga Tourism and that we had been short-listed. When he’d travelled, he drove a small car with another giant – in stature – Vusi Nhlapho. I shudder to think how it must have been inside that car. He asked me for a bigger car.
“You can’t drive there,” I replied. “Book a flight and I will join you.”
We flew out that afternoon, all three of us. He suggested fast food for dinner, and I said we should rather have a good dinner and be well rested before the presentation. Of course, I didn’t know that it would be our last supper together.
Looking ashen at breakfast the next morning, Mandla told me that his computer was running low on battery. “Go get the charger,” I replied. “I forgot it in Johannesburg.” There we were – 5% battery and just two hours to go before the presentation – that’s Mandla for you. But we made a plan, and we won the business.
Now Mandla has done it again. He died before me. In a car accident.
He was supposed to stand at my funeral to talk about me, not the other way around. People aren’t meant to bury their protégés. But, it’s Mandla.
Go well, ntwana.