9 years ago today my father passed away. While I can understand the fact of death, I battle to understand where that guy went, what happened to his voice, his brain, his gentle energy. One day it was there and the next it was gone. Okay but where is it? I’ve been dreaming about him of late, I dreamt of a tiger, one of our family totems 3 days ago and woke up feeling sad in need of something yesterday and then I remembered what day today is and how I had been thinking of the 8th of June since a very special thing happened recently.
Last week I met a woman in her 60s whom he used to teach in high school. She found me and called me up because she is writing a book about 10 South African composers. She wanted my help because my father loved music and amongst other subjects he taught at Blythswood, he taught music theory. She said that she wanted to know about him as a man especially because out of all the composers and influential Xhosa thinkers of the 19th and 20th Century she is writing about in her book, he is the only one she knew. So I met with her to tell her what kind of man my father was but during the meeting, I was surprised to learn a few things I didn’t know about him. I knew my father as an educator, an author of over 40 books but I had no idea that he was a composer. This lady told me that not only did he play the organ, piano and trumpet, which I knew, but he composed music, which is currently sitting at SAMRO archives. That part blew me away and has me exblockquoted to go on a mission to explore what is sitting at Samro. But that’s not why my heart is crying for him today.
She also told me a wonderful story that summed up the type of person he was. In those days (the 60s), the National Party government had a lot of white government agents planted in a lot of the black educational institutions such as Blythswood in the Transkei. The one planted at the school at the time was a Mr Russouw whom most of the teachers side eyed on the daily, including my dad probably. He had been there for a number of years as an influential staff member and this particular year, he was retiring after something like 12 years at the school (I stand corrected). My father was also the conductor for the school choir. Mr Russouw’s last day was a Friday afternoon in the middle of winter. Mr Bongela, whom the students called Tshamberlain because wayenamatshamba (he was full of tricks and totally feelzed himself), organised for the school choir to do a surprise sendoff performance for Mr Russouw. The sendoff was to be on the Saturday after he had left. The lady, who was in the choir that year, told me that my father got the choir to wake up at 5am, get into their uniforms on that dewey and misty Saturday morning, walk to Mr Russouw’s house and upon their arrival, they quietly surrounded his entire yard in silence. Upon Tshamberlain’s instructions, the choir started to sing in very low, soft tones, a song that woke Mr and Mrs Russouw up from their sleep and had them walk out in their gowns, the husband holding his crying but beaming wife — a day that this lady never forgot.
I’m saddened that I didn’t hear this story from the horses mouth but am so grateful that he touched people in ways that have lived on to transcend his life. I miss you Mkhwane and you know that we always thinking of you. You said you would be back on Tuesday. My mom always makes a joke that every Tuesday she dresses up and looks out the window, in case her husband drives into the yard.
Thank you for everything you have left behind. We love you!