Ronnie’s children pay him heartfelt tributes
THOSE who attended the memorial service for quintessential government spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa yesterday heard how the 56-year-old was actually a “kid at heart” who was devoted to his wife and children.
In a joint tribute by his children, Mamoepa who died on Saturday after spending several weeks in hospital following a stroke, was described as a “playful man who was simple at heart”.
Delegates, including former president Kgalema Motlanthe, Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and director of the SA National Editors’ Forum Mathatha Tsedu, spoke highly of Mamoepa’s excellent work ethic as a government communicator.
But it was his children who stole the show with their heartfelt tales. His eldest son Olefile, 24, said his dad went to jail at a very young age and had limited knowledge of how to be a child.
“When you are a kid, your childhood is all about enjoying and knowing the world. And since my dad was a prisoner, he missed out on those moments.
“But he sure made up for them when he was with us. He loved fooling around,” he said.
Olefile said although his dad was comical and playful, he always took his job seriously and taught him a good work ethic. “As much as he joked around, he equally got his job done,” he said.
Mamoepa was a former political prisoner and politician best known for his role as a long-standing, respected government communicator. In his latest role he served as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson.
Olefile added: “When you are a kid, small things put a wide smile on your face. As you grow older your expectations increase in every possible way and you fail to take pleasure in the tiny special moments of life, but dad managed to take full pleasure.”
Sakhile, 18, said his dad once woke him up in the middle of the night, asking him if he had heard funny noises downstairs.
“I replied ‘no’, but he insisted we go downstairs to suss out the noise. When we got downstairs he opened the door, pushed me out and locked it. He said to me ‘you are the soldier and I’m the communicator, so listen to my instructions…’”
His 22-year-old daughter, Muriel, said she wanted to thank her dad for loving their mom. He taught them what love was. “He would come home with only two Magnum ice creams and we would ask him who they were for.
“And it was just for him and my mom,” she said, weeping.
Her father valued education and made sure they received the best.
“I know I disappointed my father with my matric results, but I made sure I made up for it and he saw me graduate twice.”
Former Home Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma also paid tribute to Mamoepa for his significant contribution to the transformation of the department’s image.
“One official was reminding me that it was such a pleasure to work with Ronnie because he knew that when he was preparing a statement, a speech or a press release, he would come to you and make sure that your facts are correct,” she said.
Mamoepa will be given an official provincial funeral at St Alban’s Cathedral in Pretoria tomorrow.
At the request of President Jacob Zuma, flags at all national centres will fly at half-mast.
As much as he joked around with us, he equally got his job done
AS THE loved ones, friends, colleagues, comrades, and all South Africans come to terms with the passing of Ronaldo “Ronnie” Mamoepa, we remember him as a freedom fighter and as a communicator of great standing. For him communication had to translate into awareness of the work of the country. It had to mean something to citizens to ensure they supported and participated in building our democracy.
From his earliest days Ronnie challenged the apartheid system which sought to disempower and disenfranchise the majority of South Africans. His fight against this brutal system earned him a place in South Africa’s annals as one of the youngest political prisoners on Robben Island.
His time on the Island and his interactions with some of South Africa’s iconic stalwarts and a younger generation of freedom fighters, including Thami Mkhwanazi, Jerry Majatladi, Deacon Mathe and Andrew “Bossi” Phala, would inspire Ronnie throughout his life.
I first met Ronnie in the 1980s, when he was part of a delegation to London to meet former president Thabo Mbeki and me to discuss issues that had emerged in the broad anti-apartheid movement. I remember him as the youngest comrade present, albeit articulate and confident in the discussions.
I next met him at the historic Harare Children’s Conference where hundreds of South African activists came to meet international participants and a huge ANC delegation led by comrade OR Tambo. I was surprised at young Ronnie’s capacity to freely interact with people.
From his youth, Ronnie’s fierce commitment to the vision of a South Africa at peace with itself and the world, burned bright and has only been extinguished in death.
He has been celebrated as a communicator and has been described by Mbeki as the dean of government communicators. Yet Ronnie was not merely an ordinary communicator of long standing – he was a visionary. He saw his role as a government communicator as a national duty.
Ronnie was a master of reading the environment and seizing the moment to promote the country and its leadership positively. Indeed he engaged in reputation management long before it became a popular concept.
He was often heard saying that the media did not go to bed and that when one country was asleep, another was waking up. Working with Ronnie may sometimes have brought on a case of insomnia.
Those who manned the operations room at the then Department of Foreign Affairs, were always on standby for a call when Ronnie was out of the office.
Ronnie was as comfortable with heads of state and ministers, dignitaries and world leaders, as he was with the people of, for instance eJozini in a community centre. Despite his stature, Ronnie was a man of the people – young and old, from all spheres and all races.
He was a great lover of tea and made sure that journalists who attended media briefings always had something to eat.
His openness of mind enabled him to appreciate views from across the political spectrum. Among his greatest assets was his appreciation of the law, and he would spend hours debating legal issues with colleagues.
Ronnie’s passion for ensuring that South Africa was always profiled positively led to the frustration of many colleagues. He was known for pushing his team beyond the boundaries of what was prevalent. He would ask, “What are we doing that is new?” He sought innovation. Ronnie once walked into his office at Home Affairs saying, “If the Pope can have a twitter account, why can’t we, what are we doing?”
Nothing filled him with greater satisfaction than seeing a good story about the country as a headline news item.
In seeking to manage the reputation of the country and government, Ronnie was ahead of his time. To ensure maximum efficiency, he set up communication teams with the full spectrum of services – content development, audio-visual services, product development, years before others.
Ronnie was able to create a value proposition for service providers and stakeholders to the extent that they offered their services at no cost.
In popularising policies to benefit the people of our country, Ronnie sought platforms which were appealing and accessible. He would ask colleagues to test themselves against what their mothers would think when they heard or read the item in question.
In his approach to messaging which appealed to the people of our country to ensure their buy in, Ronnie was able to get, among other things, the support of corporate entities. In promoting the early registration of birth at the Department of Home Affairs, Clientele featured then Home Affairs Minister, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at no cost.
He will be celebrated for years to come for his brilliance and the sheer force of nature that he was.
Ronaldo “Ronnie” Mamoepa, you were not easy to miss in life and you will not be easy to forget in death.
It has been a privilege to serve the country with you, to learn from you, to be in the orbit of your dynamism and energy. Sepela gabotse. We dip our banners in celebration and humility in being able to share your journey with you.
‘GOODBYE DADDY’: Two of Ronnie Mamoepa’s three children, Muriel, 22, and Sakhile, 18, at their father’s memorial service.