Charles Mogale

Charles Mogale

Once upon a time there was a bullyboy called Len Khumalo.

Depending on his mood - and how he fared in an argument - he could become sweet as a melon or bitter as a lemon. When rankled, he would let his fists do the talking. It did not matter if the object of his fisticuffs was roly-poly Joshua Raboroko (now deceased), or reed-thin Themba Molefe.

Lest I be misunderstood, lensman Bra Len, Joshua and Themba had bonded like real-life brothers. And, like real life siblings, their silly arguments, mostly about grammar and a lot of petty crap, ended in a one-sided scrap with Bra Len pounding away at the two.

Somehow I always escaped his physical wrath, but Themba got a fair whack. His favourite story was when Bra Len pounded him and Joshua senseless in front of their wives after one silly argument.

Themba would hunch his scrawny shoulders and giggle excitedly as he told how Bra Len ascended the table, took a martial arts-like stance and, with his mouth frothing, demanded from the already pumelled twosome: "Who's next? Who wants some more?!"

The next day, all would be forgotten and forgiven as the threesome shared a pint of ale and joked about the previous night.

Every nasty experience he had was a joke to him, even his short experience in detention when a security police interrogator gave him hell after he had accused the police of perpetrating violence in the township.

The interrogator wanted to know what he meant by "perpetrate". What did he mean "perpetrate"? They put a stone on the table and challenged Themba: "Now let us see you perpetrate that stone ..."

When I spoke at Themba's memorial service at the Sowetan offices this week, I said that whoever can claim Themba had spoken a harsh word to them - or even bad-mouthed them - is in all probability a liar.

He did not need to scream or gossip: his depth of intellect let him make his point without hurting others.

Themba might not have enjoyed good physical health, but he lived his life to the fullest - ran and finished a good race, they would say.

A teacher by training, he had a burning ambition to start a journalism academy to train youngsters starting out in the profession. Many a brilliant journalist today owe their professional savvy to Themba, who revelled in teaching and coaching.

When my friend was about to breathe his last in hospital last week, his wife Nthobe ironically told me that he was "very healthy ... you know I am going to die before Themba."

The doctors had declared that he did not have any life-threatening ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol etc. He just needed physiotherapy - and was in all honesty sloppy in observing his exercise regime. Two days later he was dead.

Robala ka kgotso Mthimbana.