This morning duty called, our father passed away, on the day that our brother, struggle Icon and Pan African Congress (PAC) party leader Robert Sobukwe was born on the -5th of December 1924. He died in a prisoner inIsolation on Robben Island in 1978. Members of the family have been called back home to mourn. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I kept asking myself what I can do. So I am doing the best I can.
I didn’t know what to expect on my drive down to the South Western Townships of Johannesburg –Soweto. A place which, 36 years ago marked the turning point of South Africa’s struggle for freedom against the regime. The 1976 Soweto Uprising by school children from Phefeni Secondary High School, commonly known as “PHESESCO” – where my mother went to school, Thloreng Primary, where both my mother and I began our primary school education, Bhele Secondary school including most schools around the township staged a protest march against an Apartheid government plan to introduce the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction at schools. It was the last straw. The world Watched as Police and the army opened fire to thousands of unarmed school children dressed in uniforms. The picture of a limp Hector Peterson, carried in the hands of a grief-stricken Mbuyiselo, and Peterson’s sister running by his side, painted an iconic image of the cruelty of the Apartheid government.
Happily, my brother Sechaba working as a car guard – was stationed at the make shift parking on Khumalo Street adjacent to the bottom of the Vilakazi street. Where Nelson Mandela first own a house in 1946, and where he lived with his first wife Evelyn Mase, then later with his second Wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela and their children. Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu also lived in this street, PHESESCO, the high-school I couldn’t wait to grow up and attend is also on the same street.
“ Silahlekelwe sisi” ( it’s a great loss my sister) he said of our father’s passing – the death of South Africa’s First President and liberation leader the late President Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. “Kub’hlungu” He says. I know. I can see the pain in his eyes. We get to chatting a little bit while the crew gathers their staff and he tells me that he’s afraid. Tata Madiba was the one holding us all together he says he’s the one who told us to stop fighting and I am afraid that now that he’s not here anymore, the children might start fighting again. Do you really think that? I ask. He says yes. The tension is bubbling he says. I refuse to go there with him. The conversation leaves a sting in my heart. Don’t worry about your car he says, I’ll look after it. We thank him and proceed.
MADIBA- MAGIC. THRIVE.
All I can hear as I cross over are drums. A group of young drum-majorettes dressed in pink are marching down to the beating drum. As we get nearer to the center I notice a new restaurant, it was not here a few months ago. It’s at the Corner opposite – to the famously packed Sakhumzi restaurant. The mood is festive. People are sitting outside on the pavements people gazing as they sip on their cold drinks and coffee. The building is a duplex concrete and glass structure, modern, minimalistic, with white plastic art deco chairs. It looks like my kind of space. For a moment, I don’t feel as if I am in Soweto, Orlando West: my home town. I walk in and order a cup of coffee while I wait for my phone to recharge. Then my eyes find the man who seemed to run things, the man taking the cash from waiters who have him inundated with orders. With a wide smile he happily shared the miracle of THRIVE the restaurant, with a tagline “Appetite for life”. “We opened the restaurant four weeks ago, he tells me. The restaurant is a beautiful 50 percent Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal he continues brimming with pride. It is the first black female owned restaurant on Vilakazi Street. He points at her, Thembi Mahlangu a native Sowetan. She used to work for me as a barrister at one of my restaurants, Bellini’s in Illovo. She worked as a barrister there for two years. She told me that she wanted to start a coffee trolley business in Soweto, and I decided that let’s build a place. I couldn’t get a view of Thembi Mahlangu only her back, she was facing the industrial coffee machine. Doing what she knows best. Making- coffee.
So I used the opportunity to get into details about the BEE deal. Stop me if I’m rambling he says with excitement. I tell him not to worry. It’s an upmarket restaurant. We’re targeting 50 Percent Tourists, 25 percent black middle class, and another 25 percent for the locals. The most expensive meal on the menu is a stake fillet at R150 (plus minus 15 USD), the cheapest is breakfast for R20 (2USD), the pricing is 10 percent below Tasha’s, one of the most successful restaurant franchises in Johannesburg. We’re also trying to introduce locals to different foods which they are adapting to very nicely. We have some local stuff he says, Boerewors for the Afrikaners and Kota’s for the local. It’s not a party venue, he emphasizes for clarity, we’re bringing the North to the South – an upmarket restaurant in Soweto basically he says. How did you get the land I ask? We got the land from the neighbours next door on a lease, we’re paying them rental, we built this place for them basically he says. And how is business so far? It’s picking up nicely he says looking out to the horizon, and with Mandela’s passing we’ve just been overwhelmed. I have never worked so hard in my life. We’re still facing some teething problems, but so far so good. I thank him, polish up my coffee which is good and head out to the crowds.
Opposite Madiba’s former home, now a Museum called Mandela House. I see her. Dressed in her green and black African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) uniform, Khosi Masondo. Standing alone and forlorn. She really looks sad. “Sizilile M’tanami” she says, we are in mourning a leader, a visionary. But we just want to thank Tata Madiba for what he has done for us. He really helped us. You see, at a time like this, you can’t just sit in your little corner and cry by yourself you have to be with others. I really don’t think we will ever have a person like Madiba, not in the near future, maybe centuries from now but I not for a long time. His Patience, his Resilience, His Humility. You know Madiba had the ability to make you feel very important. Even when you felt that you as a person are nothing. Madiba made you feel like you’re human being, that you are worthy, that you can do something.
COME THE TABLE
“My fondest memory of him” she tells me as her eyes fill up with tears. Was at a dinner party organized by my husband, former Mayor of Johannesburg to Amos Masondo to commemorate the June 16 Anniversary for the first time after his release. I ran away. I ran away when I heard that I was going to sit at the same table with Madiba. I went to hide. But Madiba called me, sent people to fetch me to say you “Khosi” you have been called to duty, come and sit at the table with South Africa’s first Black President. He could make you feel really important. Tata has taught us a lot, we’ve seen, we’ve learnt the most amazing lessons from Tata.
AN END OF AN ERA
As day became night, I found myself at his last home in Houghton estate, amongst fellow mourners. I think it became real when I glimpsed the sea of lit candles, flowers, wreathes, images that I had until then only seen on Television, about other people. I am alive at this moment in time in history and suddenly I felt overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s my last assignment as Africa foreign Editor” Lars Sigurd Sunnana. A Radio and Television Journalist with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) , for more than four decades. He is an award winning journalist. A true professional. ” Its a it’s a fitting conclusion to an illustrious career I say. He says yes. It’s fitting.