NTSIKI MASHIMBYE: Tribute to Mdengentonga, our disciplined charmer Jabu Mabuza


I write this with great sadness over the unimaginable and sudden loss of my comrade, my fellow golfer and my friend, Javas Jabu Mabuza. I could never have imagined that I would have to pen a tribute in memory of a man of the caliber of Javas. I am however strengthened by a steely will to pay a homage fitting of the incredible man he was, a man whose common deeds impacted not only on his loved ones, but on the lives of ordinary South African citizens, and especially the marginalised and voiceless. A man who embodied ubuntu in both his professional and private life.

As I mourn the memory of a man who was so dear to me, my grief is exacerbated by my distance and thus the incredible weight of not being able to physically accompany Javas to his last place of rest. Participating in the burial of a loved one is an act that the prophet, the pastor, the priest and the counsellor will teach, helps to ease the pain and heal a wound that has been deeply inflicted on our hearts by such immeasurable loss. Being denied this reconciliation of a new reality of a life without Javas is indeed a heavy burden. And so I have chosen instead to transform my tears into words and to write this short tribute.

Gone too soon!

When we lose someone close to us, often our first instinct is to say that there “are no words” to explain the loss and the grief. But there are words.

There are words of sorrow to explain our deep and seemingly endless grief at his untimely passing.
There are words of regret when we think of the many things we wanted to tell Javas but never found the time or perhaps the courage.
There are words of selflessness to describe his constant giving and sharing with those he cared for - his generosity knew no boundaries.
There are words of euphoria to describe the treasured and happy memories we have with Javas.

But perhaps most of all there are words of strength, of determination and the remarkable self-believe of a man who rose from ordinary to the extraordinary, while always keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

To say that Javas was an eclectic character is an understatement; he was as comfortable driving a taxi as he was sitting in a private plane, he was as fluent in Tsotsi taal as he was in Machiavellian philosophies and he could cook up a feast in the kitchen, all the while strategising on his next move in South Africa’s boardrooms to fight against an intransigent and exclusive economic system. That was our Javas.

Much will be said about Javas’ illustrious career in the business world, his commitment to transformation in South Africa, his activism against apartheid and of course his success in turning around ailing state-owned enterprises.

But, the man I knew for nearly three decades was more than that. My association with him was both in the trenches and in the fairways.

It was Javas who took me to my first Pro-Am, an eminent tournament in Dubai. On arrival, we found that due to an administrative error, his two guests did not have a spot in the tournament. Without a second thought, Javas relinquished his spot in my favour and watched me play in a spot that belonged to him. That was our Javas.

For many years, on an annual basis, our group of friends (Javas, Ngoasheng, Mbazima, Sokutu, Gondwe and Kunene) would undertake a week long pilgrimage to the sacred and hallowed grounds of Augusta National to watch the Masters tournament. At the end , every day of the tournament, Jabu would volunteer to be our Braai Master and our Nourisher-in-Chief; he derived pleasure at bringing joy to our tummies and our hearts. That was our Javas.

I have never seen Javas shop for himself only. He would see a shirt or a golf club and he would insist that it was good for you to have, and no amount of protestations will persuade him away from buying it for you. That was our Javas.

Javas had a character and personality that was not only contagious, but also uplifting. He was an organic intellectual whose knowledge was carved in the school of life and not in a classroom. He was a charmer par excellence, a passionate but disciplined and engaging personality who was unflinching in his views, even if they were delivered with unparalleled humour and honestly (sometimes brutal). That was our Javas.

A recent review of the life and times of Javas, stated that “Although he was physically deprived from a height perspective, Mabuza was what the Nguni people would refer to as “Mdengentonga”, meaning short physically but tall in achievements”. That was our Javas.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Javas, you will never be forgotten.

It pains me and it amputates my very spirit to have to say to his beloved wife, children, family and friends; please accept my sincerest condolences and may his beautiful soul rest in eternal peace. He will be sorely missed but forever immortalised in our memories and our hearts.

Mfowethu, Mabuza, Nhenha ya ti Nhenha, famba kahle Bhuti wa Mina!

Ntsiki Mashimbye is South Africa's embassador to Egypt. You can follow him on Twitter on @MashimbyeNtsiki.

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