Ron­nie, ever re­silient

A vet­eran com­mu­ni­ca­tor, Mamoepa knew the story, and he told it well, writes David Hla­bane

CityPress - - Voices - Hla­bane is spokesper­son for the de­part­ment of home af­fairs

Many will agree that Ron­nie Mamoepa was un­bend­able, as his brother, Tshepo Mamoepa, told com­mu­ni­ca­tors and jour­nal­ists at a me­mo­rial ser­vice held by the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion Sys­tem in Pre­to­ria on Wed­nes­day.

I would ar­gue friends and foes alike are sad­dened by his tragic death.

In­deed, he was a com­mu­ni­ca­tor who un­der­stood the mis­sion to serve be­yond ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries con­strict­ing the mind – race, gen­der, class and other no­tions of power.

There­fore, he was cel­e­brated as a gen­tle giant of gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions: full of life, bub­bly, ever re­spect­ful.

We all drank from his brim­ming well of po­lit­i­cal wis­dom and ma­tu­rity.

Two per­sonal en­coun­ters stand out for me. The mil­i­tary fu­neral of Yasser Arafat in Egypt, near Cairo’s air­port, in Novem­ber 2004 is the first.

There, avail­able re­sources were mo­bilised around dig­ni­taries in the hours be­fore Arafat’s body was taken for burial in the West Bank.

We stood stranded as sup­port staff of po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­pals out­side the air­port’s gates which were heav­ily manned by sol­diers for se­cu­rity rea­sons.

Ron­nie and deputy for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Aziz Pa­had cheer­fully laughed away care and had us walk many kilo­me­tres back to the ho­tel where we were sta­tioned.

To tell the truth, the youngest among them, I felt weary in a heavy grey suit and tie un­der the heat of the sun. Not Ron­nie, ever re­silient.

He ap­peared to be ab­sorb­ing en­ergy and in­spi­ra­tion from Rev­erend Frank Chikane and Pa­had chid­ing us all the way – “this short walk is noth­ing com­pared to the long jour­ney we tra­versed through the dark days of the strug­gle”.

Ron­nie teased me: “No, chief you wouldn’t have sur­vived Robben Is­land at this pace, they should have kept you longer at Mod­der­bee pri­son and turned you into a hard­ened chief.”

Like a com­mis­sar, he could have moved you to believe how pre­pared you were to die on the spot in the front-line trenches of the strug­gle.

One other long-serv­ing gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tor, Thabo Masebe, ad­mit­ted at the me­mo­rial ser­vice that with Ron­nie’s de­par­ture he was in a trou­bled state.

I re­called how I felt, in another con­text, in a trou­bled state.

The second en­counter took place ear­lier in the same year, on Jan­uary 1.

We were in Haiti as com­mu­ni­ca­tion sup­port for for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki and Min­is­ter Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the mid­dle of a civil war. The oc­ca­sion was the cel­e­bra­tions of the bi­cen­te­nary of the in­de­pen­dence of Haiti, in Por­tau-Prince.

Out in the field Ron­nie taught us about the na­ture of gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the ethics of in­tel­lec­tual com­bat, from which we all must learn.

In Haiti, he re­vealed the im­por­tance of han­dling com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a time of a cri­sis. The les­son was that we must talk to jour­nal­ists, all the time, even where we feel ag­grieved by the an­gle taken or slant of the story.

He stayed calm, in­sist­ing we talk to the wellmean­ing jour­nal­ists who had re­ported in­ac­cu­rately that pres­i­dent Mbeki’s con­tin­gent had come un­der fire on a Haiti street.

We were in that mo­tor­cade. So we thought our mis­giv­ings were jus­ti­fied. Still we sat down and drank tea with the jour­nal­ists, with Ron­nie ex­plain­ing the dif­fi­cult po­si­tion they had put us in.

We had to con­vince our po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­pals to brief the same me­dia from which had emerged th­ese re­ports that had fam­i­lies trem­bling with fear back home.

The ver­sa­tile Ron­nie in­sisted we cham­pion the cause of re­porters who joined us in Haiti at a very dif­fi­cult time with no sign of the sun to make happy the skies.

Later when I was stranded for hours at an air­port in the US, hav­ing missed the con­nect­ing flight on the way back home, I felt proud to have had him on my side, with no hard feel­ings about ear­lier en­coun­ters.

We all were play­ing our part in telling the story of a na­tion that un­der­stood its role in the world and could, among the very few, see the essence of join­ing hands with the peo­ple of Haiti in cel­e­brat­ing a rev­o­lu­tion that es­tab­lished the first black repub­lic in the world.

All this un­folded in the land of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Tous­saint L’Ou­ver­ture who dared to chal­lenge, in Mbeki’s words, those who had tram­pled on the sa­cred things that de­fine our be­ing as Africans and as hu­man be­ings.

TALK

TO US

What will you re­mem­ber most about Ron­nie Mamoepa in his role as gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tor?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word RON­NIE and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Sit­ting flat on the ground at the bi­cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions, Ron­nie would shout – “L’Union fait la force” – sec­onds be­fore the words popped out of pres­i­dent Jean-Ber­trand Aris­tide’s mouth, in a mov­ing clar­ion call for lib­erty, equal­ity and fra­ter­nity.

He knew the story, and was able to tell it well. He didn’t do “spin”, he did com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in the words of Mathatha Tsedu, the vet­eran jour­nal­ist who taught us in our en­gage­ments what the me­dia ex­pects of us.

With Ron­nie Mamoepa’s death the sun does in­deed de­scend.

But, in the words of for­mer pres­i­dent Aris­tide, “dy­ing for the flag, for the home­land, is beau­ti­ful” for our dig­nity.

PHOTO: SAM­SON RATSWANA

IN HONOUR OF Ron­nie Mamoepa was re­mem­bered by many at a re­cent me­mo­rial ser­vice

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