Mamoepa never about position
TO ME Ronnie Mamoepa was a hero who I heard about in my days of ANC Youth League branch politics in the Eastern Free State, in Ficksburg.
At one meeting in Ladybrand, an ANC elder mentioned him and advised us to emulate him as one of the few people who grew up in the struggle and was sent to Robben Island at a young age.
I grew up wishing to meet him and learn from him, even during my studies at Wits University.
As fate would have it, I joined government communications (GCIS) in August 2000, and one day he walked in to ask for help with compiling the first annual report of the Department of Foreign Affairs since 1948.
On entering the reception area, everyone who had been at GCIS started to run away,whispering “Ronnie Mamoepa is here. We will never finish what we are doing!”
In true Mamoepa style he came towards our office space greeting and chatting to everyone, from the security guards to the cleaners, with a loud voice and a chirpy laugh. Everyone was called “chief”. He cracked jokes calling us all “the agents of government propaganda”.
He proceeded to the office of our manager for a consultation. After a few minutes he stepped out, all quiet with a look of frustration.
I could tell there was something wrong but I also thought that this was my opportunity to meet my hero. I was scared because given his government and political standing, I thought he would brush me aside. This was the man who was the spokesperson for presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
I followed him to the reception and when he exited to the parking lot I ran to him.
I greeted him and said “Dumela Ntate!”(Good day Sir!)
He reached out his hand and said “Dumela Morwa Rre!” While shaking my hand, he said: “But who said to you, Chief that every black person speaks Sesotho?”
I was startled for a second and I apologised to which he responded, “It’s okay, just be careful, Chief!”
I told him what I had heard about him and he kept on correcting my version. About 30 minutes later we were still chatting, with him asking me to repeat the good parts of the story.
Ntate Mamoepa was the first person to believe in me when I only had a few months’ experience in government communications.
He was good at unearthing and recognising talent but also at identifying mediocrity. He gave many young people a chance next to him.
Ntate Mamoepa was never about positions or ranks. Many people who he groomed became deputy directors-general long before him, but he never complained.
He taught me the value of giving to people who are less fortunate. He lived for his job and would wake you up in the “wee” hours or late at night.
He had good relations with all stakeholders in an organisation and outside, especially the media. Rest in peace Ntate! Rest in peace Morwa Rre” Acting head of communications in the Department of Home Affairs