Sunday World

Tears of my heart remain for Mutodi Neshehe

To him education was the only equaliser in society

- Dr Mabila Mathebula

The untimely departure of Mutodi Neshehe, to borrow from John Dunne to express my ineffable sorry, has left me diminished.

I was also sadly reminded of the heartbroke­n Joshua Nkomo when the lifeless body of Duma Nokwe was about to be laid to rest in Zambia, “Laduma kubalele”. Roughly translated into English, “the skies thundered even as there was no cloud in sight”. Indeed, tears of the eyes can be wiped away, but tears of the heart remain forever.

I had the golden privilege of teaching Mutodi at Pace Commercial College in the heart of Soweto. He was the only pupil in my class who spoke Tshivenda. He was amazingly proud of his ethnic identity when his language was still looked down upon.

He was fully aware of the fact that his mother tongue, which he regarded as natural, was repugnant to others. He knew from an early age before his life bloomed that to be human one should not lose one’s ethnic identity.

He came from a middle-class background where his father was a successful entreprene­ur during the dark days of Apartheid, but Mutodi never allowed his affluent background to mystify his educationa­l ambition.

He had the singleness of purpose as far as education and life were concerned. He was convinced that education was the only equaliser and weapon in our armoury to fight unemployme­nt, poverty and inequality.

It is notable that English was taught as a first language at Pace Commercial College. There was an unwritten communicat­ion rule that dictated that verbal and written communicat­ion were strictly in English. Mutodi and

I negated that norm and instead spoke in Tshivenda, and I impressed upon him that my forebears hailed from Venda.

The language served as a binding force between the two of us and it gave us an opportunit­y to discuss personal issues when the rest of the classroom suffered from “language poverty”.

When he went to study in the United States, he waved me goodbye, and he used to call me from the US before the advent of cellphones. That was my first experience to receive an internatio­nal call. There is no greater joy for me than receiving a call or a letter from my child. When I had the opportunit­y to visit the US, I visited the Statue of Liberty as per his advice. When I was there, I recalled the words of Dr Kwame Nkrumah: “Statue of Liberty, you have opened my eyes to the true meaning of liberty and I won’t rest until I have carried your message to Africa.”

When a pupil dies, a part of a teacher dies too. Mutodi was tied and folded to the knot of my heart. He carved a niche in my heart and he carved it out by hand.

The thought of losing him when his services were needed most in South Africa is intolerabl­e. I am convinced that as his former teacher, I have delivered on my mandate of helping young minds to grow and, given another opportunit­y, I would still go back to the classroom and produce more powerful people of Mutodi’s calibre.

For some of us who left the teaching profession because of “greener pastures” in the corporate world, our current cushy environmen­t may turn into an infernal tower if we failed to follow our initial calling of growing young men and women.

Mutodi’s passing has challenged me to revisit the important role of teachers to society. In waving Mutodi goodbye, I would like to quote from Tennyson’s In Memoriam: “So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be.”

May his soul rest in peace and may he rise in glory. May the Lord also coil up warmly to his family. Laduma kubalele!

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Mutodi Neshehe

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