30 May 2017

South Africa: Tribute to Wiseman Khuzwayo

Waving farewell to the veteran journalist and activist

IsiZulu puts it well - Ayohamba amaqhawe Kusale izibongo. Loosely translated, this age-old saying means the beloved will depart, but their names will live forever. It is far different from Shakespeare's English adage in Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."

But such was the contrast that governed Wiseman Khuzwayo's life - contradictions that forced the British government to take a hard look at its relationship with apartheid South Africa.

Khuzwayo, or Bra Wisey, as we fondly called him in the newsroom, successfully forced the UK to make him the first black exile to fly out of Lesotho by pointing out the differences on the treatment of his application for asylum against that of fellow white South African journalist Donald Woods.

But such was Bra Wisey, a man who could pick and choose his battles.

Bra Wisey faced many demons in his life, from detention without trial to trumped-up charges, but he always maintained his dignity. And when everyone thought some things were impossible, Bra Wisey would give reasons why such thoughts should never be entertained.

When doctors gave him less than six months to live in 2015, Bra Wisey confounded them and went on to live for more than four times longer.

Business Report was Wiseman Khuzwayo and Wiseman Khuzwayo was Business Report.

It was always difficult to separate the two, because Bra Wisey was there when the concept was first conceived and went on to see it executed successfully.

Of the more than 1 million people who read Business Report every week, Wiseman Khuzwayo's name is forever associated with the paper.

I first met Bra Wisey as a rookie journalist in the mid-1990s.

He was by then well established and known the world over - from London to Berlin and South Africa. He had written for some of the world's foremost newspapers.

But not once did he ever give an impression of self-importance.

Our paths would cross once again when I joined Business Report, where he took time out of his hectic schedule to make my arrival seamless, showing me the ropes and giving me words of encouragement when doubt settled in, without expecting anything in return.

In him I met the embodiment of grace, sophistication and understated elegance.

Bra Wisey was always firm, but fair.

I remember him sternly rebuking a colleague who wanted to undermine one's work, without raising his voice. He remained calm throughout it all.

On Friday morning, Bra Wisey breathed his last, succumbing to cancer he had battled for more than two years.

His wife, Ausi Anna, said his condition deteriorated rapidly the Saturday before, and doctors told the family that the best they could do was to make his last days as comfortable as possible.

The ever-loving Anna - they were a match made in heaven - decided to bring him home to ensure that he passed on surrounded by those closest to his heart.

The week before, his brother Sifiso told me how rapidly the cancer had spread.

So while his death was not unexpected, when it came, it hit me like a slap in the face. Words disappeared as the small but closely-knit Business Report family shed tears.

This intellectual giant, who for years had become the father figure of 47 Pixley ka Isaka Seme (formerly Sauer) Street, was no more.

I have always battled to understand what my children meant when they said life sucks.

But on Friday, the millennial talk assumed a meaning.

And indeed, I also felt that life sucked.

For if not, how could it rob us of such a fine mind?

How could it take away the glue that kept our newsroom together? How could it deny generations to come an opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the best that journalism could offer?

To say Bra Wisey was larger than life is a cliché.

Triumph

In him, everyone could find themselves.

To some, his unassuming demeanour represented the triumph of the human spirit over many battles in life.

To others, his quiet presence represented endurance of his struggle against apartheid during his years as a law student at the University of Zululand.

The struggle saw him battling the bitter cold English weather in Fleet Street, London, after being forced into exile to avoid more torture and further detentions without trial in the country of his birth.

And the bright spark that was always in his eyes represented the kind of future we all hope for.

There was something particularly profound about Bra Wisey.

Beyond the small frame and the scholarly look lay a compassionate individual who made everyone feel easy around him.

When all the returning exiles chose to live in fancy suburbs post-apartheid, Bra Wisey elected to stay modestly in Soweto and later in Turffontein.

He radiated a depth and intelligence with a great understanding of humanity, with all its foibles. He also had great compassion as a result of his vast life experience.

Bra Wisey had been deeply hurt by apartheid, but was never discouraged.

He had been beaten, tortured and frightened but he never forgot how to be brave.

When he was diagnosed with cancer and given a couple of weeks to live, Bra Wisey challenged the disease head on and went for chemotherapy and radiation as a weapon in yet another battle that he had to face in life.

He continued to work while he had cancer for more than two years, and wrote brilliant stories for Business Report. He loved journalism.

In February last year, Bra Wisey went for a blood transfusion to get enough energy to cover the Budget.

He was always willing to be a torchbearer so that others could walk in the path of lightness.

In a way, Bra Wisey was one of the unsung heroes of black journalism, with an illustrious career that started at the Daily News in Durban and went on to grace many pages the world over - from Fleet Street to Berlin and Johannesburg.

He was worldly, yet approachable and humble, yet erudite.

At times when discussions in the newsroom were intense while deciding on what story to go where, Bra Wisey would sit quietly as if uninterested in what everyone was on about.

And when everyone was at the end of their tether, he would speak out calmly and provide wisdom.

You could go to him with the most complex of problems, and he would just give you a smile and tell you that no problem was insurmountable.

At home, he was a father who had time for all his children.

His wife Sis' Anna called him her gentle giant.

Such was the enigma called Wiseman Khuzwayo.

To the world he was just another journalist working for a financial publication. But to others, he was more than a father figure.

Many a young reporter would take their troubles to Bra Wisey, only to come away satisfied because he gave them an ear.

Visiting him at his modest Turffontein home revealed another side to his character. He was a family man who put his wife Ausi Anna (a cook par excellence) and six children before anything else.

He also had the ability to deal with different personalities and make everyone feel equally important.

But on Friday, death robbed us of this beautiful mind.

And in the words of a fellow journalist, "journalism will never be the same without Bra Wisey".

And Business Report will never be the same without him.

So, as we still battle to hold our tears over your death, Mnguni, we take peace in knowing that mother nature allowed us to know you to the bitter end.

We were lucky to hide behind you and felt ourselves made whole knowing that you were there behind us.

We knew that if we fell, your steady hand would always guide us.

There is just another Zulu adage to this - okungapheli kuyahlola.

So as you begin your new journey to the netherworld of other doyens of black journalism, such as Percy Qoboza and Sophie Tema, know that only the excellence that you planted in your short, but valuable life will live after you.

Know that your name will be known to thousands more who will choose this noble profession - long after God and your ancestors have received you.

So long Mngun omkhulu. Yeyeye kaPhakathwayo!

This article originally appeared in the Business Report.

Sechaba ka'Nkosi is the Business Report's deputy editor.

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