Meet the Godfather of the funeral business

In his hometown of Mohlakeng in Randfontein, Godfrey Diale is not called "The Godfather" for nothing.

He inherited the role from his father, Ben, who died in 1992.

For many people who have died destitute in his township, including residents of the Itireleng Home for the Disabled and the Mohau Aids Hospice, Diale became an earthly father figure.

He has donated generously to the building of the local Lutheran Church and, besides the poor, has also provided services so local people can be buried with dignity - people like journalists Doc "Old Carcass" Bikitsha, Jimmy Tloti and Stan "Dekaffirnated" Motjuawadi.

Besides his own father's death, not many have touched him as much as that of long-time friend, Patrick "Ace" Ntsoelengoe, the former soccer superstar who died last year.

So close was he to the soccer legend, who was found dead in his car outside a Lenasia hotel, that when he was inducted into Football's Hall of Fame in the US in 2003, "Mabheka," as Ntsoelengoe was fondly called, invited him and his partner along.

"Ace was revered in America," Diale remembers with affection.

"He competed against other inductees like Franz 'The Kaizer' Beckenbauer of Germany among others," Diale remembers with fondness.

He regularly buries the poor and the unknown for free.

The man behind Diale Funeral Parlour, on the corner of Legodi and Ngqonyela streets smack in the middle of Mohlakeng, has a story that warms the heart. A story that should make the entire nation sing and dance.

Being in the business of death didn't make it any easier when Diale's father quietly passed away.

What is worse, he died when the business he established way back in 1958 was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

For 34 years, the Diale Funeral Parlour had been a pillar of the community, a trusted institution steeped in the township's folklore.

Then, in the beginning of the 1990's, the waters got muddied, stiff competition came to town.

Indian operators like City Funerals and Poones moved in into this territory, bringing with them state-of-the-art funeral operations, cut-throat marketing savvy and immense experience that only money could buy.

There was danger that Diale Funeral Parlour was going to become just another single-generation business. A dream deferred.

But like a bolt out of the blue, the death of the family patriarch changed the fortunes of the business for the better.

"I still cannot fathom why business started coming our way again," said Diale, the 36-year-old family baby, who is a father of two boys and a girl.

He has great respect for his father's business acumen, but is quick to add that Diale senior was a "traditionalist", a businessman steeped in "the old, tried and tested" methodologies of how a business should be run.

Desperate times demand desperate measures.

Four years after his father's death, Manyane took a decision to quit his job as a teacher of many years at Phahama High School, where he taught Setswana, English and history, to pick up the pieces and rebuild the business, which started 11 months before he was born.

Before that, the going was tough.

He remembers rising at the crack of dawn and putting in some hours at the business before reporting to school at 7.30 in the morning. Then spending his lunch time between 11am and 11.30am back at the business and finally returning at 2pm when he knocked off.

It was back-breaking. He went about it like a beast of burden on whose young shoulders the fortunes of the family business rested.

It was touch and go.

2000 was an epochal year for the once small family concern.

Young Diale staked all and danced precariously on the line between certain bankruptcy and imagined success.

He started renovating the premises, which started with a single office, a small showroom with six coffins and one car, a 1961 Ford Fairlane.

There was a time during the building process when he wished it could rain and rain and rain.

"At least rain would have put a halt to the building processes so that I could set aside the time to at least accumulate some more cash to buy additional materials and pay the workers."

But as rotten luck would have it, the builders finished in a record five months.

Today the modern, multi- faceted Diale Funeral Parlour stands as a granite monument to his dream and resolve.

It has long returned into the black - and then some.

From his Mohlakeng base, he drove photographer Kali Mabuti and I to Aurius, an industrial site at the edge of Mohlakeng.

Here Diale has built a huge warehouse on a 40m by 40m site.

And this is where he stores most of his hearses, some luxury sedans and limos.

He has no idea how many cars the business has.

I stopped counting at 14.

Two vintage cars, second generation sedans his father purchased, stand outside the warehouse.

Both the 1965 and 1966 Dodge Monacos and Fairlane are still in running order and for Diale they are a lasting tribute to the memory of his father.

This simple man prefers simple, African fare, preferably prepared by his mom, who is now in her 70s.

"Every time Jomo [Sono] and Screamer [Tshabalala] come calling, my mom prepares us a simple meal of pap.

"She slaughters a chicken and prepares it in the simple way the Batswana do, with water and no other ingredients.

"Sometimes the three of us polish off two chickens," he chuckles.