When you are this great, only the body dies....
BY SIBUSISO DLAMINI
ever had I imagined having to go through this moment – writing ‘Mr. T’s’ tribute! This is the hardest thing I’ve had to pen all year.
Today, I woke up at 4:16am to write this tribute, but I couldn’t even finish a single paragraph because every single moment with you I recalled, filled my eyes with tears and before I knew it, my page was wet. This is the very same page you first read my work on about three years ago.
I first met ‘Mr. T’ briefly when I was around the age of 14, and I had been afforded the opportunity to jobshadow the Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers Managing Editor (ME) Mbongeni Mbingo during my school holidays. Senior Reporter Teetee Zwane introduced me to everyone at the office and when it finally came to the editor’s office, she said ‘So this is the main man young man.
This is the man who allocates stories and plans the whole paper’. In true ‘Mr. T’ style, he looked at me straight in the eyes and asked me ‘uyakwati kubhala ntwana?’ loosely translated to ‘do you know how to write young man?’
Being a Manzini lad, I was quite impressed with his witty ‘pantsula’ vibe, but his voice was commanding and I quickly answered his question with an “uhmm, yes. I get very good marks in my compositions.”
He laughed off and said; “good then, I can’t wait to edit your story later on young man.”
That week, I got to see more of his charisma as I attended the editorial meetings where I would sit down and listen with keen interest as the editors dissected each and every part of the paper and measured its weight against the opposition.
I would later form a strong bond with ‘Mr. T ‘a good two years later when I finished my exams. I initially had an appointment with the managing editor, but he was travelling in and out of the country constantly due to academic commitments, so he was on his way to Wits University and hence referred me to Thulani Thwala.
Whilst the ME was quite a familiar and more relatable figure to me, I had only met ‘Mr. T’ only during that week where I had been attached to the Observer two years back, and from being an avid reader of his infamous ‘My Turn’ column, I knew I had to pitch my idea to a man who was hard-to-impress. I retucked in my blue shirt and made sure my shoes were well polished.
As long-serving front-gate man Bhekisisa Mbuyisa walked me through the stairs, I could literally hear my heart beating faster and when the door opened, I was led to his office where he was reading one of the pages. He warmly welcomed me and I had my go.
In only five minutes, I pulled up my notepad where I had written my features and ‘Mr. T’ was blown away by the idea from that very moment.
That very day, he took my notepad to sub-editor Mbonisi Ngcamphalala and asked him to type it for me and further planned how they would structure it.
That was how the birth of ‘The Podium’ came about. That very day, he took me to a meeting he had with a certain corporate company, showed them my work and a week later, I was travelling around the country and doing public-speaking for them. He didn’t just end there; he introduced me to his wife and further gave me bus fare to get back to Manzini, albeit my explanation to him that I had saved up enough lunch money.
From there on, ‘Mr. T’ treated me like a son, and this was not in any way meaning he didn’t come hard on me, instead it was more on me.
To ‘Mr. T’, he ate deadline as he liked to say. Every time my column was late, even for an hour – he would yell at me “Ye Dlamini, utawukhandza sekadze ngayikhipha le Podium mine nawutawungibambelela.
Unlike your teacher’s young man, I’m your editor. I don’t get to hound you on my work, you know the deadline and I expect you to meet it. I eat deadlines, I breathe deadlines, my life is always on the edge, so help me help you and get my work done on time please!”
This was the man he was. He believed in tough-love and he always told me that’s what made me tick.
‘Mr. T’ knew the two most important things in my life, so whenever he would have a serious talk with me about work, he would firstly begin with the question - “Unjani make Nkhosi? Ngiyatsemba awumuhluphi lomuntfu lomdzala ntwana.”
The problem with you Sbusiso is that you sometimes forget who you are and that worries me greatly. You are gifted ntwana, a talent I haven’t seen in this industry in such a long-time.
You’re a natural in this thing, but that alone won’t take you to the level you need to get to. Spana ntwana!
I have never believed in editing your work because I confidently published your first piece of work without having to do so – and that time you were young and naïve, so why should I start now? Just like I took your hand in when you walked through this building, I can easily kick you out if you start doing the opposite of what we agreed on, so please don’t test me!”
That was ‘Mr. T’ for you, -a fearless figure, a witty fellow and a talented journalist who served journalism diligently and passionately for 23 years.
He influenced my writing greatly because he shielded me a lot through from the backlash I would receive from my controversial subject matters and strong opinions on The Podium. When I was later on tasked with the youth section, he was an avid reader and always gave constructive criticism.
He even had talks with me on hip-hop and made fun of my dress code. “Hhawu Sbuda...yabona mine laMzansi ngiva lo Nasty C, bese ke tsine uyasati silalela bo Rick Ross, hhayi these small boys of yours that make noise!
And whilst I do take you shicholo (fade), nalemitsekane (sneakers), I will not tolerate lama t-shirt labohhabahhaba abo 2-Pac (over-sized T-shirts) and your torn pants (ripped-jeans) on a Monday will not be tolerated.
You are disrespecting me ke nyalo Nkhosi.” After not commenting about my features for a while, these past few weeks you were back at it. From being totally unimpressed with the column on Caroline Kiara, and getting the whole newsroom on your side to being impressed with last week’s letter to the PM and the princess and further stating how I had influenced your ‘My Turn’ the next day. I mentioned how humbling that was to me and on Tuesday we had our last con- versation where I told you about my next adventure - an idea I pitched to you two years ago, and it feels so sad that you won’t be around anymore to see it come to pass.
When I last spoke to you on Tuesday afternoon, you and the Sports Editor (Mphikeleli Msibi) threw your normal jokes at me – “soya offer ke kusasa ntwana, utabe unalomtfwana lebrema neh?” he said jokingly.
I said ‘yes’ cheekily and left them bursting in laughter, promising to see them on Thursday, to tell them how it went, but when Thursday came, I met Phetsile who told me you had passed on.
I cannot find enough words to thank you for influencing my life.
You genuinely cared about me. Took me in as one of the youngest to have ever stopped in t he newsroom a nd reminded me daily of how blessed I was to have this talent and how I s hould a l ways c hal l e nge myself. Rest in Power
King, you are a legend. When you are this great, only the body dies, your words will live forever ‘Mr.