A Tribute To A Very Special Friend, Mphatisi Filtane

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Mphatisi is no more; yet he lives large among us, Zizi is gone for good, but he is ever present through the massive outpouring of grief across the country; we will never see him again; although daily we see his picture from all those who were fortunate enough to meet him. From the day his father passed away, we were in regular contact, I was trying my best to console him, but inevitably it was Mphatisi who would give me strength and could see hope even in such a hopeless situation. When he was later diagnosed with Covid19, we exchanged regular texts about him getting better and taking all the precautions. When he was admitted in hospital, I sent him daily messages of motivation, even when I knew he could no longer read them, I did this because Mphathisi had sold me hope. I was hoping that one day we would look back at those texts and laugh about them.

On Christmas Day, I woke up with a strange feeling, I walked 10km in Zizi’s honor, I then sent him a message wishing him a speedy recovery and a Merry Christmas. I then sent a message to my friends on a WhatsApp group to appreciate them. I later wrote a message on my social media platforms about this unique and painful Christmas. Then I texted the wives and family members of all the friends I lost this year.

In that social media message I wrote,

“ This is an extraordinary Christmas, a time of family, fun and joy in the midst of pain, death and suffering for many families. As we grieve our losses, let’s remember those we lost and spare a thought for those still battling for their lives and honor those in the frontline of the fight against Covid19. As we celebrate Christmas, we must express our profound gratitude for the lives we still have and for the lives of those dearest to us, let us treasure these precious moments with them.

Merry Christmas, may we enjoy this time together without endangering the lives of others – no fun is worth the life of another, no celebration is worth destroying the future of others”

Then the news came, Mphathisi Filtane is no more, how could this happen, no no no, not uZizi, not uDlamini, I had hope, I had wishes and I knew he would recover. What would become of his soul mate Pindiwe, what about his children, and could this happen to the Filtane family again, after so much loss of life, another death, another funeral. I was numb, I had lost another friend, could I take another loss, I had lost Mzwandile Poswa; Mlungisi Mgengo; Tando Nyati; Sindisile Maclean; Kimi Makwetu, Ncediso Captain; and now Mphatisi Filtane. The only way to find meaning was to write, to put my thoughts and memories on paper, for Pindiwe and his kids to know how we experienced this wonderful guy. I also write this to focus more on how he lived rather than how he died.  

Mphatisi Filtane – A man of many passions 

In my favorite movie of all time, Serendipity, there is an inspiring and memorable quote: “You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: ‘Did he have passion?’” This may not be historically accurate, but these words have stuck with me for years, its words that profoundly attribute the value of passion in a person’s life. Mphatisi had unquenchable passions about all aspects of his life. I would like to remember him through those passions, firstly as a young man in Johannesburg and secondly, as a mature family man at the prime of his life.

1. Finding our way in Johannesburg

Mphatisi was passion personified… we met in Johannesburg around 1993, we were young, fun loving, carefree – yet Mphatisi had this passion for life and a profound sense of the meaning of life.

Our time in Johannesburg was one of the finest times of our lives – here we were, far from home, making ourselves extra comfortable in this cauldron of life. I have thousands of stories from those years, but for present purposes, I will only highlight 10 memories of our time together in Johannesburg.

• We enjoyed spending time together as guys, talking nonsense, teasing one another, telling stories with much laughter. These sessions were not for the faint hearted, Mphatisi gave as much as he received from such hilarious characters as Putco Mafani, Jb Mali, Monde Konza, Lunga Kepe and others. What a character he was, he became one of us, and was one of the most colorful personalities in our group. This group was difficult to penetrate, but when it embraced you, you were there for life. Mphatisi carved his own mark in the group; he was unique, funny in his quirky way, but undeniably genuine in both his words and actions.

• Mphatisi knew everyone who was prominent in Johannesburg at the time — movie and tv stars; musicians, club owners, dj’s, soccer players; business executives and celebrities- and he introduced us to all these larger than life people. All these people became our friends; they were all attracted by that infectious laughter and disarmed by that golden smile. Mphatisi was a magnet for all fun loving people and all those with a good heart, he always knew how to “ make the circle bigger “

• For most people, who are not from Johannesburg, there was a general fear of the townships around Gauteng. We had a huge advantage; Mphatisi knew these townships from his sales and marketing background. Within no time, we had friends in Soweto, Tembisa, Katlehong, Mamelodi, Atteridgville, Thokoza and all other townships. Mphatisi and Rush would introduce us to some of the most feared characters in those townships and we felt safe. We partied hard in those places, and build lifelong relationships because of Mphathisi. 

• Later more guys from the Eastern Cape would join and we loved party hopping around Jhb. Because we mostly did not know anyone, we would go into a party and seek the dance floor. Within no time, we would form a “ dance circle” and would dazzle people with our dance skills, Ciko Thomas, Mzwandile Nomkhonwana, Putco Mafani, Mncedisi Mayekiso, were part of our the core dance group. Jb Mali would shout from the sidelines, “Bathatheni bafana, bathakatheni makwedini”. Mphatisi did not possess great dancing skills, so he would be standing there cheering us on, and selling and marketing us to whoever would listen- within a short space of time, we would now be part of the “ in crowd “ of that party. People around Jhb were fascinated by these Xhosa guys, we were loud, colourful, full of life and” in your face”. People were fascinated by the deep Xhosa we spoke, the pride we had in our language and culture and our constant use of our clan names. Sometimes people would ask, “ who are you referring to, we would say, Mphathisi, they would say, but you used another name, and we would try and explain the different clan names of Zizi, Dlamini etc. Through Mphatisi we entered Johannesburg life with our own proud and unique identity. 

• We also loved going to parties outside of Johannesburg, to far flung places such as Mafeking, Mabatho, Lesotho or Swaziland. We would go with huge convoy of 20-30 cars. Zizi would be at the forefront of organizing these convoys, where would stop, where we could stock up and accommodation.  Sometimes we would be in Mafeking, and Mpathisi would get a message on his beeper or a call on his huge Alcatel phone that there is a better party in the South of Johannesburg – Mphatisi would persuade us to drive back to Johannesburg for that party.

• When Putco Mafani arrived in Johannesburg, he settled in Yeovile, and his place because a home for most guys from the Eastern Cape. Putco’s book,” The price and prize of greatness”, chronicles the life we had there and the prominence of Mphatisi during those times. Each weekend at Ibhayi, as we affectionately called the place, was different, with lots of people, but Zizi was one of the core members. We were all new in our jobs, and we hated Monday morning as it meant separating us from the fun at iBhayi. Zizi would organize the braai, stocking up on booze and begging MNET in his good English not to deal disconnect Putco’s TV. During these times there were some who were working, and others who were still unemployed- some of us felt that the guys who were unemployed, who did not contribute, were eating too much of the food and drinking too much of the alcohol. Mphatisi’s big heart always came to the fore – he would argue passionately that these guys contributed in kind- through their jokes, great company they were and the fact that they were fun to be with, he would say, “ What would be the point of having too much meat and booze, but we are bored, as some of these guys are not there”

• Mpathisi was sports mad, we as friends were all crazy about sports. There is no better time spent than watching sport games with sports mad friends, be it boxing, football, rugby, motor racing or athletics. Each game was characterized by fierce debates, unparalleled rivalry and brutal takedown comments about each game and players. This was Zizi at his best, taking on everyone about sports predictions and celebrating wins and mocking losers. Some of the traditions we started in Johannesburg with him have endured to this day, and guys would call him in Durban as they reminisce about what he would say.

• Social football was big in Johannesburg- it would bring former professional players, social players and up and coming young stars out to play. One of the best venues for these social games was at the ESKOM Megawatt Park in Sunghill. Our team from the Eastern Cape was a regular there, and Mphathisi was an amazing goalkeeper and our leader on the field.  He was vocal, passionate and knowledgeable about the game, and was highly regarded by all of us including the opposition. His acrobatics and spectacular drives were easy on the eye. He was the undisputed leader of that team and who use his sharp tongue to bring errant players into line. 

• There has always been unease between guys from the Transkei and guys from the Port Elizabeth area. Mphatisi singlehandedly smoothed relations between the two groups and brought more understanding from everyone. Through his efforts, many guys from the Mthatha area came to EBhayi and played in the soccer team, while many PE guys could go to Nyigos famous meat session, where he slaughtered animals and guys had meat like emakhaya.

• One of Zizi’s remarkable sales and marketing feats was to persuade all our friends to go to the Transkei and later PE for the December holidays. This meant that guys from Johannesburg, Durban, PE, Cape Town all drive to Mthatha and later to Port St Johns for the fun of holidays. Later we drove in a huge convoy to Port Elizabeth, where Dj Sandile Zungu was mesmerizing people with his music, and we would dance to our version of the current Jerusalema dance. The time we spent at Port St Johns was memorable, there Mphathisi was the king of the castle, and he and his friends went out of their way to entertain us. I still do not know how we drove between Mthatha and Port St Johns at great speeds through those sharp bends and dangerous curves.  

Mphathisi was a leader among us, he was one of the most influential among us and I can say without fear of contradiction that many of us would never have fully settled in Johannesburg without Zizi’s passion and love for us and love for life. In sports parlance, this was the first half of Dlamini’s game of life, he played with passion, scored many goals, made many friends and was ready for the second half of his life. We all used to talk about growing old, settling, raising children, but most of it was KWV induced theory, until Father Time caught up with us, and we all had to now enter the second half of our lives characterized by foreign concepts such as responsibility, maturity, accountability and being role models.

2. His passions; his life and his love

Mpathisi Filtane had passion in abundance- my indefatigable friend had passion for all aspects of his life. In the second half of his life, I would like to highlight some key aspects of these passions.

Passionate love for Pindiwe

Mphatisi’s life can easily be described as before and after he met Pindiwe. From the moment they met and fell in love, Pindiwe became the most important person in his life. Those of us who know him well knew immediately that a love Tsunami had hit him. He was completely captured by MamGebe. You just needed to be around him, listen to him or observe him to see his passionate love he had for Pindiwe. Zizi genuinely loved her, celebrated her, honored and respected her.

Yet this was never good enough for Zizi, he wanted to get better and be an even better husband. He would reflect on his past, the mistakes he made, and felt that he was immature before, but this time, with MamGebe, he wanted to be a model husband and a man who would make her happy forever. He just kept on improving, becoming a better person, a better husband and a better father – he was constantly in search of improvement and excellence. 

On the celebration of their 10th wedding anniversary, Zizi wrote this beautiful post about Pindiwe, 

… One day I will make ‘her people become my people, where she goes I will go; my home will be her home. Indeed ten years ago today, she said, “I do”, in a church full of our people, in the little village that raised me and was about to become her permanent home. And before them all, I kissed her, oh I kissed her, for all to see, then proclaimed “maZizi, ngowethu”!!!”

Thank You Mgebe for allowing me to be your companion and choosing to walk with me no matter what this journey brings.

I am truly favored!!!!!!”

His lived experience, his sheer force of example is a lesson for all of us, a living example of how to love passionately and unconditionally and make your partner the centre of your universe. Painful as it is MamGebe, over time, you will treasure the beautiful moments with such a special guy and you will thank God for experiencing genuine and deep love.

He commitment to Pindiwe, in front of his and her people – for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part – has been fulfilled, he was loyal and committed to the end.  

Such was the love he had for Pindiwe and the devotion he had to her. He has shown us the way, he has shown us how to love our wives, honor and cherish them in good and bad times. Each one of us can take a leaf out of his illustrious book.

Passion for his children

Mphathisi was very close to his Dad, they had an amazing bond. Mphatisi was determined to be as good a Dad as his father was to him. He achieved this by being a doting and present father. He became not only a superDad, a confidante and role model to his children- he became an integral part of all aspects of their lives. You just had to listen or observe him relate to his kids, narrate stories about their achievements and accomplishments. He may be physically gone from them, but his hilarious stories, unconditional love and evergreen lessons will remain with them for the rest of their lives.

The lesson he lives with us is that we must play an active role in the lives of our children – we must never allow our corporate ambitions, entrepreneurial passion or personal hobbies to make us ignore our children. Mphathisi has shown us the way, ours is to follow his beautiful example.

I have been deeply touched by a noble initiative by Michaelhouse Old Boys to contribute to the education of Mphathisi’s children, each one of us as his friends, must do everything in our power to contribute to this worthy cause. Lizo Ndaba and other Michealhouse Old boys would give more information or a person can donate through this platform. https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/mphathisi

His passion for his family

Zizi was very passionate about the Filtane family and the Dlamini clan. He imbibed this from his inspirational father. He and his father became best friends; you judge this by how regularly they spoke to each day; their sporting rivalry between Sharks& Chiefs (Mphathisi) versus Western Province& Pirates (His Dad); the leadership skills they shared and their passion for the Tanga community. This passion extended to his entire family, Mphathisi truly loved his family, and would go to the ends of the earth for them. The pride he had for the family was just a marvel to watch, he was exemplary in his love, care and support for his parents, siblings, cousins and family members.

His lesson for all of us is that we must never sacrifice our deep family roots, in search of a higher reach of success. The reality is that Mphatisi was able to have a higher reach, yet was always grounded within his family and his community.

His passion for business

Mphatisi had a huge passion for business, be it large, middle of small. He always believed that businesses, properly run and well directed could be a source for good, be it as creators of jobs, contributors to the fiscus or through assisting with the country’s socio economic challenges. In his later years, he found his most stimulating passion as being an entrepreneur- every venture he entered or started was a challenge to be conquered. He saw each step, victory, set back and challenge in such business ventures as a noble effort to make a difference. He would be animated in telling you about each business, each opportunity and how things could improve further. Ever the optimist, always a man of ideas and dreams, I would be at the receiving end of his criticisms about how the banking industry just does not understand entrepreneurs. The majority of his complaints were never about his own business, there was always another entrepreneur he felt could be helped in their hour of need – such was the size of his heart. He detested those who took shortcuts in business, he despised those who gave black business in particular a bad name due to shoddy service and he totally abhorred any form of corruption in business – to him business should put the best products and services against one another in open and free competition.

In the evergreen words of John W Gardner, “ The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy.” Mphatisi was about excellence in business, he would publicly and privately applaud those who strive for excellence and shun, reprimand or counsel those who were responsible for sub standard business. Such was the man, a man of excellence and achievements in all aspects of his life.

He lives us a huge legacy, of hardwork, ethical conduct, excellence in products and services and a demand for our businesses and endeavors to be above reproach and forces for good in society. Each one of us involved in business must learn from Dlamini, so that our businesses can become a force for social good.

A fierce loyalty to his friends

Mphathis was an excellent choir conductor of his many friends -we came from all walks of life, had different upbringing, motivations and were at different stages of our lives. Yet Mphathisi was able to take this motley crew and create harmonious music from all our different voices and talents. He had a way of linking us up, regardless of how uncomfortable that was, and by the end, we would be focused on what needed to be done than on our differences. He hated tensions and fights among friends, he had the annoying habit of playing Kofi Anan among us, always listening to all sides and ready with practical and sensible solutions. He was fiercely loyal to all his friends, but was always looking out for the underdog, for a friend in need, or a friend who needed support. Behind the scene, with very little publicity, he would link us up to help a friend, and never claim any glory. He was also ready to defend all his friends from any unfair attacks and kept details of all our progress. If you speak to guys in KZN; Eastern Cape; Gauteng; and Western Cape, they would all claim Mphathisi- he was universally loved and admired because he was such a genuine guy, and a dear friend to all of us. 

His message to us is one of unity among friends, collaboration towards noble goals and solidarity with those who fall on hard times.

A passion for this country and its people

Mphatisi was a true patriot; he loved this country so much and believed in its true potential. He strongly believed that with the right leadership across all sectors, we could be the winning nation we were destined to be. In the dark 10 years of corruption and State Capture, when so many were quiet about corruption and incompetence in government circles, Zizi boldly added his voice to those of us calling for change. As the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, he decried the growing inequality and the apathy, callousness of the elites with their conspicuous consumption. When state institutions continued to fail, he passionately argued for competent, qualified and conscientious people to be appointed to run parastatals, municipalities and other state institutions for a much more better society. Mphatisi also believed in a non-racial society and felt strongly that all our people have a lot to contribute towards a better future for our children. He distances himself from all forms of racism, tribalism regardless of the perpetrator. Mphathisi was quintessentially a unified and a builder; he strongly believed in finding the very best in people and accentuated their strengths.

His life message to us is to continue his life’s passion of building an equitable, fair, just, ethical, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society for our children to inherit.

A passion for knowledge and new ideas

Zizi was passionate about knowledge and new ideas. He was attracted to people with different perspectives, new ideas and new insights. His sources of news ideas, opinions and views came from a broad range of sources, be it a deep conversation with the elders eTanga; brilliant books he has read; new insights from a dialogue he had with other entrepreneurs or through conversations with friends. This made him a formidable debater as he had such a vast reservoir of diverse knowledge and insights. His arguments were always lucid and logical regardless of the topic under debate.

His lesson to us is to keep exploring, search for new ideas and not regurgitate tired philosophies and slogans; his sheer example was one of lifelong continuous learning. We are poorer for losing such an incredible mind.

Conclusion

As we search for leadership in all the wrong places, our true leaders are hidden in plain sight. Leadership is not a title held, but an influence felt. Mphatisi did not hold formal leadership roles, yet he had a profound impact on so many people. His leadership extended far and wide and so many people looked up to him. You just have to look at a few tangible examples:

  • Mphatisi initiated a book challenge, this was highly successful and encouraged so many people to share their book reviews online. This went viral and carried on for a few months after he started this initiative. Many people spoke about how this initiative helped create a deep reading culture.
  • Zizi saw the hardship experienced by those less fortunate during the hard Covid 19 lockdown. He mobilized for so many people to pool resources to help those in needs without seeking glory nor recognition 
  • Dlamini started to become active in personal physical health. He was part of the Team Asijiki, which became a national movement. We could see his passion coming through as he mobilized many of us to be part of this movement. The movement grew from strength to strength and this improved so many people’s health. In his honor, there will be a race on the 10th January 2021. I will encourage all of us who knew him, to run his own race on that day, to show our gratitude to this special son of the soil. 
  • Lastly, and probably less publicized was Mphatisi’s role in solving many problems of friends, colleagues and family members – sometime it was a job search, financial support, business support, marital advice, life lessons, coaching and mentoring. Mphatisi was there for everyone, and most people knew that he was the “go to guy” to help with many of life’s challenges. 

We bid farewell to a dear friend, a man of many unquenchable passions. If the Greek were to ask us that question about Mpathisi, whether he had passion, we would loudly proclaim – Mphathisi Filtane had passion. His passion lit fires to many lost causes, kindled hope to many during hopeless situations and burned brightly in the eyes of dreamers of new ventures. It was through this passion, his indefatigable spirit that Zizi was able to battle against insurmountable odds.

Hamba Kakuhle Phopho, TC, Chap ethile!

Hamba kakuhle Dlamini, Zizi, Chubungulashe, Lamyeli, Mtatela, Nomana, Ngxib’inoboya, Lunika, Natipikoko!!!!! Ugqatso ulufezile