She blew kisses then fell as she went down the stairs
With heavy hearts, Miriam Makeba's bereaved band members arrived back in the country yesterday.
A sad Zamo Mbutho, who has worked with Makeba for 14 years, was at a loss for words.
"I can't explain what is going through my mind. It's like someone will say it's only a joke, she's fine. I wish she could have given us a sign that she was going. Perhaps that would have prepared us," he reflected.
Mbutho said that on Sunday night when Makeba was performing at Naples in Italy, she looked beautiful. "It's like she was saying goodbye. There was nothing unusual about our performance. Gogo sang six songs instead of 12, then switched to Pata Pata. She was enjoying herself. After the song she thanked the audience, blew kisses at them with a radiant smile and left the stage. As she went past me, she put the mic on the drum. As she went down the stairs, she fell.
"The paramedics were there quickly, and as they tried to revive her, the audience started chanting Miriam's name. This went on until the ambulance drove away."
Dejected, Mbutho said they packed and went to the hotel before driving to the hospital.
"On our way there a phone rang to say we should go back to the hotel. After midnight, Lumumba, Afrika and Roberto came to address us. You could tell something terrible had happened. Roberto's cheeks were red, and they were all evasive. When they finally broke the sad news, we fell apart," he said.
Kwazi Shange, who is a drummer, said he still had a picture of Makeba falling.
"I was standing with Zamo watching the paramedics at work. I saw her face change but I was still hopeful that she would be fine. I feel bad about what happened," he said.
"I will remember her sense of ubuntu, how she mothered us. Whether you worked or not she would give you money to see you through tough times.
"She preached unity and lived it by teaching us to work with band members from America, Cameroon, Madagascar and Liberia. I will also miss her cooking every time I went to her house," he said.
Mandla Zikalala, the bass guitarist, said there is nothing they can do to change what has happened, sad though it is.
"We had just played the last note when Mama collapsed. I was hoping it was something minor that would be easily taken care of.
"I will miss her not only as a granny I sang with, but as a mother who nurtured us like her own children. It was not in her nature to leave you in pain. I still cannot believe she is gone."
Joel Klein, a guitarist from the US, said he was moved by the events of the past few days. "My heart is heavy but I believe God works in strange ways. It was a blessing to be with Makeba, a legend not only for Africans but for the world.
"When we saw her lying down, we prayed that she would pull through."