Catholicism was her life

Shane Dladla

Shane Dladla

For the parishioners of Our Lady of Africa Catholic Church in Mohlakeng, the death of Veronica Masechaba Phate has left a void that will take a very long time to fill.

Phate, who was affectionately known as Nkgono or DiOuma to parishioners, was a true and committed Catholic who discharged her duties and responsibilities in a way that would make many people feel envious or even guilty.

Phate's mother attended a convent and became a nun after her husband passed away. She was known as Sister Dolores Shea.

Her commitment to Catholicism and the church started at an early age. She regularly prepared the altar for mass, a skill that she learnt as a young girl from the late Mother Xavieria.

Phate willingly prepared the altars at all Catholic parishes around the Randfontein area. She started this practice before the forced removals in the old location of Madubulaville.

Later, she prepared the altar at St Antony's in Randfontein, St Martin de Pores in Toekomsrus and Our Lady of Africa in Mohlakeng. She also performed the duty at schools such as St Ursula's Convent in Krugersdorp and Merici Primary School in Mohlakeng.

It was at Merici that many of us will remember her best because generations of Our Lady in Africa parishioners attended the school.

Besides preparing the altar for Friday morning mass, Phate also cooked soup and prepared Mageu and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch for the pupils. She would often joke with the children that it was the Mageu that turned them into big, healthy children.

Phate will also be remembered for her indefatigability to keep order during mass. She would cajole anybody who misbehaved, and those who continued to chat or chew knew that they would be pinched.

Her conservative demeanour on matters such as receiving holy communion without wearing long sleeves if you are a male or not covering your head with a scarf or a hat if you are a female made some of us feel that she was stuck in a time warp.

Though the church was no longer strict on these matters, Phate insisted that parishioners covered up when they walked into church.

Phate's commitment and dedication to the church made her very popular among church leaders and many prominent people are expected to attend her funeral. Among them will be Archbishop Buti Tlhagale and Bishop Patrick Mvemve from the Klerksdorp Diocese.

The service starts at 7am at the local Catholic Church and the cortege leaves for the Mohlakeng Cemetery at 11am.