Dear Andile Nkuhlu: Let’s Talk Frankly... A Tribute to a life well led




Your return to the ANC was a show of courage of your convictions to know when a boat is going to sink, and to know when to change strategy and adopt new tactics to survive. You were a consummate politician. Something I am not; hence I didn’t always get you!

Andile! Mchana! You are gone too soon. In 1994 When I met you little did I know that one day I will have to stand over your grave to bid you farewell over a life so well led. It reeks of utter pain. But we have to be strong and rebuke death itself with the popular refrain:

Death be not proud.

Though some may call you mighty

Though some my call you dreadful

Thou are not so.

Let’s be frank, you were a true maverick in everything you dared pursue. From your excellent academic rise and pursuit… your anchoring of student activism… your rise into the public sector… your success into business ventures, and, yes, your popularity with the fairer sex is a bit legendary, too, if we are frank. But all of this painting four-and-a-half decades of a life, you led your way…. I wonder whether you have any regrets other than that maybe you indulged too much into sweets like me, making us end up with the silent killer, diabetes, that lives with us waiting to pounce. But regrets I am sure are few; too few to mention.

When many student leaders failed their exams during your time, you rebuked them not just in words, but excelling in class and according yourself well in the pursuit of academic excellence. Partly, you had no choice if you have in your family the likes of Prof Wiseman Nkhuhlu, the very definition of genius. What excuse would you have had, really? You and your twin, Ayanda, always startled your teachers, and showed them how inadequate the curriculum was. This knack for excellence was to colour your entire life right to the end.

You have made an indelible mark in student politics. When I landed at University of Western Cape (UWC) in 1993 and made your acquaintance, I had no idea what impact your maverick self was gonna have on me. While I am my own man, I would be lying if I said your influence did not loom large in pushing me into the UWC student politics in a way I could never have imagined. I was frankly not interested much having been stung by the student activism bug at Turfloop. I came to UWC to essentially hide and try and get a second qualification. You, Ayanda and Sango found me, and literally forced me into the local leadership of South African Students Congress (SASCO) when the organisation had to fight for its very life, and the rest is history. Given the recent disagreements we have had over business, I wonder what it would have been like if we were not on the same side during the volatile days of the UWC politics. I shudder to think about it.

Those who dared cross your path found a formidable opponent able to dig into the depths of the grey matter in a remarkable way, and unleash a torrent of a response onto them. Able to strategise deeply and with fanciful footwork that was unmatched. No exaggeration is fathomable when you are described as a force to reckon with. Gosh, you could machinate. Your machinations saw SASCO rise from the ashes in 1995 and 1996, to reclaim its place in the politics of UWC. But it is also under your robust leadership that the student movement had to rise to the new challenged of co governance now that our own government was in power. We could no longer sustain merely making demands, but had to dig into our intellect to make the two seats we had on the University Council count. You were never a back bencher. You were part of a delegation that went to challenge Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, in Parliament, in pursuit of the new Higher Education Act. You left your mark.

Your impact into our political landscape was simply amazing. You immersed yourself in the progressive movement for decades. When it was not fashionable, your selfless courage saw you form the very core of the Congress of the People (COPE). A rebellion that woke the ANC from its slumber in many ways. Its demise notwithstanding. It was always hilarious when Terror Lekota tried to claim credit for forming COPE. You were always there to remind him that you in fact had to drag him, kicking and screaming, to the 702 press conference where he served “divorce papers” to the ANC . You were one of the few voices that were always able to tell him to shut up when required. Gosh you were fearless. Always able and willing to speak your mind in an abrasive way if required. Those who worked with you even ahead of Polokwane knew that if you put your mind to something it was done. In your mind impossible was nothing. You were an eternal optimist and a thorough campaigner.

Your return to the ANC was a show of courage of your convictions to know when a boat is going to sink, and to know when to change strategy and adopt new tactics to survive. You were a consummate politician. Something I am not; hence I didn’t always get you!

In business you surprised many as you became one of the youngest business moguls of our time. At least we can say you tasted the fruits of our freedom, and did not theorise about making this economy work for all. You have left a legacy second to none amongst those of our generation. We can learn a thing or two from you. It will be an awkward lie if I did not whisper to you about your countless conquests in the area of “human relations”. The fairer sex knew you. You were not called Barry for nothing. You could have slowed down on that score Mchana. But no one is perfect.

Your commitment to Zintle and your children was always admirable. They will always love you as you did them. You have left them a legacy – because your good deeds will be told for decades to come –filling them with pride and giving them solace about your untimely departure.

And then your friendship with your twin Ayanda is simply legendary. You had me fooled only once (as identical twins must) in our long association because after knowing you both there was no possibility to confuse you. You startled many with your independence of thought yet profound interdependence as soul mates. Something that is rare these days as family and friends try to mimic each other much. By the way, you did not fool some of us with your good cop, bad cop routine. We saw through you., but you had a beautiful relationship that must be celebrated. Ayanda was always the reasonable one and you the “maverick dander head” if we put it bluntly. He is gonna miss you, but he will find solace in your big and loving family – the envy of many families. He will find solace in all of us who continue to extol your virtues and continue to see you in him, because a large part of you will continue to live in him.

You fought a gigantic fight. You ran a fantastic race. You kept the faith till the very end.

Your life was well led, and with your good works we can say to death one again – Death be not proud!

Some may call you mighty,

Some may call you dreadful, but though are not so.

Because before death arrived, 45 years of example were well led , 45 years of trail blazing lit up the skies of our land with a life so full!

With your life we can say Death Though Shall Die!

Until we meet again at the feet of the most high, farewell Mchana! Fare thee well Njeya!

Yours Frankly

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

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