Open Remarks at Vuyi Radebe’s Life Celebration Event

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In the seminal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”  We are gathered here today to bid farewell to a remarkable man, Vuyisile Radebe who has left an indelible mark in our hearts. We have come to say goodbye to an inspirational man, who dared to go where there was no path to leave a unique trail. As I thought about this moment, I was drawn to a text he sent me on the 2nd May 2019.   

 “ As you can imagine this is been a terrible thing to go through at so many levels. However at some levels it has forced some incredible realizations. It is going to be an interesting journey going forward. I would never wish it on my worst enemy. The hardest thing is the toll that it has put on the family. Can you imagine your children watching you die everyday. But anyway, it is what it is. 

The good thing about this is that I can have a say on how things play out. In the event I have a memorial service, you have a job to do as the MC. Make it very funny.

On the positive side I would advise you to spend all your time with your family and wife and children. Time is not guaranteed. Spend time and love them profoundly and tell them and take pictures. Enjoy life. 

Here is someone, terribly ill, his life ravaged by a dreaded disease, his emaciated body in pain, but he has hope, and has such claity of thought. Vuyi’s brilliant mind and benevolent heart could never be overcome by the circumstances he found himself in. Through the pain he was experiencing, in spite of the frustration of being confined to a bed, his brilliant mind and huge heart was defining a hope, a hope of not just coping with illness, or improving the quality of his life, but more importantly, he had hope for his family and friends. Here he was, ignoring his own pain, and thinking about the impact of his illness on Pam and the kids and also giving me advice on my own life. 

Our dear friend, Itumeleng Monale captures Vuyi in all his magnificence when she wrote, 

“The true greats are often the most humble, most unassuming, most loving of people from all walks of life, most curious, most challenging and most open. Vuyi was all of these things and so much more. A giant in heart and intellect. This world has lost a passionate contributor. 

What a courageous journey he walked. Such strength and bravery. 

Our hearts are aching, but Rest in Peace dearest brother.  We release you with love.”

Vuyi’s life script was well written, born into abject poverty, his fate was poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment, but in true Vuyi’s style, he flipped the script through his intellectual curiosity, discipline and application, he received a scholarship, and his horizons were widened. Here was this boy who was not meant to amount to anything, and instead he rises to the top of the academic and professional worlds in far away lands. He touched everyone he met with his authenticity, humanity and incredible intellect. You will hear so many speakers today, from across the world, they were touched by the Vuyi magic. 

Vuyi came back to South Africa, armed with education and knowledge from some of the best institutions in the world. There was another script prepared for him, a script of a highflying executive comfortable in corporate boardrooms, feted by the mighty and the powerful. Yet again, Vuyi flipped the script, he remained grounded in his Alexandra roots, retained the connections with his past, cared deeply about the welfare of those less fortunate and fully embraced his Zulu culture in all its glory and magnificence.

There was Vuyi, an eligible bachelor, great job, and amazing opportunies to be a man about town. This was another perfect script for him. Yet, predictably, Vuyi met Pam early in his life and he found his soul mate. He was obsessed about being a good husband to Pam, and an amazing father to Hlangalethu and Zoluntu. 

Then finally, a dreaded disease attacked every fibre of his body, Vuyi lost so many of his abilities and was confined to bed and a wheelchair for many years. The script was very simple; this was a terminal disease that would eat away at him until he was a complete shadow of his former self. Ha, this disease had never met a warrior like Vuyi. Like the consummate strategist and consultant he is, he developed a battle plan with Pam, to fight this brutal enemy to the bitter end. He ripped up the script set out of for him and finally wrote his own script of life. 

Vuyi’s life is a lesson to all of us, his gentle, yet firm advice to me must echo across all of us who knew him. At a time when each one of us can die from Covid19, we must focus back on the things that really matter in life. We must pursue lives of meaning and purpose as Vuyi did. In the words of the late Prof Clay Christensen, each one of us must answer the deeply intrusive question, “How will you measure your life”? When each of us pass away, we will not be remembered for our assets, material possessions, or social media statuses.  We will be remembered for what we stood for, what we represented and our contribution. 

VUYISILE, one of the finest African minds, one of the biggest hearts beats no more, a generous spirit is lost to us in physical form, we will never hear that thunderous laughter again, we will never again benefit directly from his wise counsel, we will experience his unconditional love now only through his legacy. 

Here lies a man who was authentic, who was grounded in his culture, who was present for his family, who was an asset to the Alexandra and Nhlangwini communities, the pride and joy of his family, Pam’s soul mate and love of her life, a much-loved father, friend and uncle, an admired colleague, and a proud African.  

This man did not go where the path may have led, instead he went to where there was no path and left a glorious trail. Today a young person born in Alexandra or Nhlangwini can dare to dream to go and study at the best schools, work in the most prestigious companies, raise a family, and be a much-respected member of society, that is Vuyi’s proud legacy.

Today we gather, not to mourn, but to celebrate an amazing life well lived, a life of purpose and meaning. Join me to celebrate a programme that is scripted by Vuyi himself, which takes us through his life through the eyes of those closest to him.

Hamba Kahle Bungane, Mthimkhulu, Makhulukhulu, Zikode, Mashwabada inkomo nempondo zayo, Izinzipho zimnyama ngokuqhwayana, Mangelengele, Mahlub’amhlope!!!  

What a great loss for Africa, South Africa and the world – we lose someone of your intellect, compassion, passion and values at a time when we are crying out for leaders. We have lost a leader with integrity, with recognized skills, a benevolent heart, with a genuine interest in the welfare of others, a champion of those marginalized and forgotten by society, an advocate for lifelong learning and a man who truly promoted diversity, inclusion and belonging. I hope we will pick up his fallen spear and forge forward to battle against racism, poverty, and misogyny and underdevelopment. We have to carry his shield with pride to defend the homeless, defenseless, those with no voice and no rights as he bravely did during life. 

Vuyi Radebe can never die; he will forever live in our hearts

Celebrating the extraordinary life of Vuyisile Onesmus Radebe
27 March 1973 – 9 January 2021