OPINION: Paying tribute to fallen heroes

Phiri Cawe

It’s been a difficult, painful year. My heart carries pain and it seems death is walking among us every day.

People who are well-known and who serve their community are dying in difficult times, under conditions which do not allow us to bid them farewell in a fitting manner.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has restricted us from mourning and grieving in the way we were accustomed to. Regulations relating to physical distancing and the number of people who are allowed to attend funerals have restricted us from physically supporting and comforting each other.

Grieving and mourning from afar is not how we do things. That is not us, Africans.

As I write this, I cannot believe that I can’t bury those who have died recently who were close to my heart.

I haven’t been able to attend the funerals of the many whom I have lost. My heart can’t take this blow it has been dealt.

As schools slowly reopen and more pupils start returning to their classrooms, I have also heard about many teachers who just want to walk away for fear of their lives.

These are scary times. Please allow me to pay tribute to those who have fallen, some of them due to Covid-19.

The death of mam’uNomzamo Kolisa, from TR Section in Khayelitsha, was a killer blow to me and that community.

As if that was not enough, a great sister called, hissing like an old cassette to share the news that another hero of the poor is no more – Thembinkosi “Terror” Qondela.

The Whizzkid IT centre owner was well-known and we got to know each other a long time ago when he was a student at UCT and we started playing soccer together.

A very stubborn revolutionary and a fighter for the poor, Terror was a straight-talker, a Marxist who believed that many services should be provided freely to his community of Site C.

He led by example, and people who needed to set up email addresses or print documents but could not afford it, he helped them mahala.

Before he started Whizzkid, he founded the Conscious Marimba band which supported many struggles. And, gatvol of the political status quo, Terror decided to stand as an independent candidate in local government elections in Site C. But he was nearly killed and found himself having to dodge bullets in the election campaign. Nonetheless, he didn’t give up.

His reasoning was that he was there for people – and he still received a fair number of votes.

Losing Terror was also a massive blow to his recent campaign, started in defence of his village, Bankies, in Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape during the time of Covid-19. He created a Save Bankies Campaign to protest his shock at what he described as the reckless handling of an outbreak of the virus in the village.

This is a man whom I respected and loved for his views. He was a writer too and we had published a couple of his pieces in Vukani. Qwathi, Dikela kaNoni usikhonzele.

Also among those who have left us is Masiyile High School teacher Charles Malgas whom I considered a brother even though we didn’t know each other for a long time. This is a teacher who was a father to my niece who atttends Masiyile.

Every time the young lady tried to misbehave, Mr Malgas never hesitated to give me a call. We would talk and come up with solutions. From the many parents I have spoken to, I’ve gathered that he was also kind to them and their children. He was not only a teacher but a parent to the children and a mentor. So many children looked up to him. How I wish he were not really dead but just resting his eyes.

Also recently taken from us was my father figure in Cape Town, Mxolisi Diamond, the man that welcomed me into his home like his biological son.

Big and light in complexion, people often jokingly asked the man how he had a “dark son” like me.

Bhudayi, as we called him at home, realised his days were numbered and was always warning me of this pandemic. As he departed I was angry but grateful for all he had taught me, and that he had showed me how to behave in “rough Cape Town”.

Hamba kakuhle Ngcingane, Rhudulu, Mhlatyana.

Bhudayi, I could not be there to bury and wena you will know better as to why.

I also could not bury my childhood friend Thembikile. We grew up together in rural Ciskei and later became like brothers.

We went around selling tripe for a living. He had views on almost everything and was a chatterbox of note and a comedian.

Nakuwe Nzolo, kaNzothwane I could not be there. You passed on when the country was closed, locked down. There was no movement whatsoever. I was supposed to close your eyes but circumstances beyond me prevented that.

To Sisi Thandi Sibhukwana, Andiswa Rasi of Onesimo Creche in Site B, you are not forgotten. You will be in our hearts and minds. You have left a legacy behind. May you all rest in eternal peace. Rest easy. Sadly, more are coming.