Robbie Malinga's family on loss and celebrating his legacy

28 December 2017 - 10:58
By Jessica Levitt
Robbie Malinga passed away on the 25th of December 2017.
Image: Veli Nhlapo Robbie Malinga passed away on the 25th of December 2017.

As I drove into the secure complex in Fourways‚ Johannesburg‚ towards the tennis courts‚ I see women carrying containers with juice and plates with biscuits. Men are carrying flowers and chairs. This isn't hired help.

They are the family and friends of Robbie Malinga who are getting ready to address the media. It's two days after Robbie died surrounded by his loved ones. Now those very people are here. They're not only preparing to put on a brave face‚ they're working‚ making sure that everything looks perfect while they speak about their beloved ntanga (brother).

Seated behind a long table covered with a white cloth and flowers is Robbie's brother Bheki‚ his father Coleman‚ his longtime friend and business partner TK Nciza‚ his sister-in-law Tumi Modubu‚ musician Doc Shebeleza and a representative from Universal Music‚ Kenny Tlale.

They're sombre. They start off by giving details about the Sobabili hitmakers funeral and memorial service and then invite questions from the media.

For the first time it is revealed Robbie was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in June this year. Robbie's health was the subject of much speculation after he was diagnosed with anaemia in December 2016 and spent much of 2017 in and out of hospital. Pictures of a frail Robbie went viral earlier this year and Twitter trolls poked fun at his weight-loss‚ speculating about his health.

In November‚ Robbie told my colleague Lesley Mofokeng that he was determined to survive. He was speaking at his 47th birthday and commented about those who had poked fun at his health‚ calling them 'mean.'

After getting permission from Robbie's wife‚ Anne‚ the actual cause of his deteriorating health was revealed.

"She said there is no shame in having pancreatic cancer and that there are so many taboos around these things‚ so we decided to say what it was‚" said TK Nciza.

The secret was kept so quiet many of his friends and business partners didn't know about his diagnosis.

"I was so disturbed but then we went through it. You know Robbie how he is. He said 'don't worry‚ I'm getting better‚'" said his dad Coleman.

He wasn't getting better. And he hadn't defied death. With a stage four diagnosis‚ his brother Bheki said the family knew they had to be prepared.

"In the end‚ he couldn't walk and battled to eat. His voice was low and you had to get close if you wanted to hear."

A family member said that he had just been to the Maldives with his wife. While his health was looking up‚ it gave his family a false sense of confidence.

"They knew his time was limited. They were told as much by doctors. But he was doing better. He was well. When they came back from holiday he crashed."

On his last day‚ unable to walk and eat‚ he insisted his entire extended family spend the day at his house. He invited them all to celebrate: Life. Family. Love.

"He was very satisfied when he saw both families together for the first time. For the first time since he and his wife met. He asked me to call his wife and said she must dish up for people and they must eat. He looked around‚ asked me to shake his hand and then turn him. He was sitting up and I turned him around to face an eastern direction. To me that was a sign of goodbye. He never turned back after that‚" said Bheki.

Bheki is wearing a maroon top and shades. His mouth tightens and he speaks slowly as he describes those last moments‚ pausing while he explains how he turned his brother around.

"We were very close. Very close. We called each other almost every day. I will miss his humour. His teasing. He teased everyone around him. He had this teasing smile‚ whether he was happy or not happy."

"I'm going to miss him. But more than anything I'm going to miss having someone to call ntanga."

Despite the many fake reports about Robbie's death in the past year and the horrid comments about his health‚ his family said they were nothing but thankful for the journey. They said the support from fans‚ the media‚ government‚ political parties and even from his favourite soccer team‚ Orlando Pirates‚ has been a humbling experience.

As they spoke about their support system and sat there‚ two days after the death of someone so special‚ it was I who walked away humbled.

Death is not proud. Robbie knew that. On his dying day he wanted his family around him. A month before his death he said people had been mean about his health‚ but joked that he found some of the comments funny. He knew it was coming and he asked his family to be thankful. It is also us who are thankful.

RIP‚ ntanga.