A tribute to Phumeza Mgxashe
I first met Phumeza in December 2015 as we were both finishing up contracts for the UFS and we were asked to work the last few days out at the offices of the IJR, going through TRC tapes. We connected immediately and a very strong friendship followed.
As I got to know Phumeza I discovered that she was also a very strong Christian and Sundays she spent in church so any social activity booked with Phumeza had to be on a Saturday. However, Phumeza loved social gatherings and often referred to me as her social secretary due to the meet up lunch gatherings that I organised with friends. Those were happy times and little did we know then how short our time with Phumeza would be.
If 2020 was challenging for the rest of us, for Phumeza it was doubly so as she had Lupus, which put her at extra risk during the COVID pandemic. She actually messaged me one day during the pandemic saying: ‘I sometimes wonder what the lesson is for us as humanity – what is Covid-19 meant to teach us?’
Phumeza was hospitalised twice in 2020, first in March 2020 and again 4 October, when she messaged me to say that she was en route to hospital. After this the only news I had was via the tireless nursing staff who informed me that Phumeza was on a ventilator and could not receive visitors. By week 8 or 9 I finally heard from Phumeza again and we were able to text each other via Whatsapp. One day while in hospital Phumeza messaged me to offer me the use of her car as she knew that I was without a car at the time. I didn’t accept because it did not feel it was right for me to do this, but I was so touched by her offer; that even at the height of her illness, she was still thinking of others. Phumeza’s tenacity of spirit was such that after the ventilator was removed at Week 11, she sat in her hospital bed and completed her MPhil on Inclusive Innovation with the UCT Graduate School of Business, which she sent to me to edit. She also spoke very highly of her supervisor, saying “she is an amazing young woman who is an expert in her field.” Working at her thesis while so ill was no easy task and she told me via Whatsapp that she would work for 2 ½ hours and then need to rest as she got very tired. However, she achieved what she had set out to do and wrote a very powerful thesis on the role of intermediaries in the implementation of socio-economic development (SED) benefits, through the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPPP) in low-income communities. Her thesis, which she described as a “labour of love to the end” reflected her concern for others and her dedication to improving the lives of impoverished communities in South Africa.
During her life Phumeza touched so many lives with her kindness, her empathy, her compassion and her wisdom. Through her mentoring work for Partners for Possibilities, the Black Umbrellas Mentorship programme and mentoring youth at risk, Phumeza invested her time in improving the lives of fellow South Africans. To this end Phumeza’s passing is not only a loss to her family and friends, but a loss to our country, to which she was so committed.
Phumeza was also someone who always strived to focus on the positive and there is a wonderful article about Phumeza on-line where she spoke about mentoring a young woman who had only seen the ugly things in life and how she wanted to show her that life was also beautiful. That was the beauty of Phumeza.
Yesterday I was going through my
Whatsapp conversations with Phumeza and saw a message that I sent her on 4
December, 2020 when I said
“Phumeza: I feel so blessed to have you in my life.” Her reply was:
“We are both blessed to have met Joline. I feel the same. I think it was God’s plan.”
Phumeza loved her family and friends very dearly and in one Whatsapp message to me she said: “Thank God for wonderful family and friends.” She was especially proud that her niece was studying medicine and on 12 December 2020 she messaged me to say:
“My niece Yamkela has passed her medical degree. She is taking an oath on Monday!” And although she expressed sadness at missing such an important moment due to her hospitalisation, in the next breath she said: “God is good! Our family is over the moon! I am so proud of her!”
The memories that I will treasure of Phumeza are the happy times before COVID kept us apart from each other, the times when we would meet up at our favourite coffee shop in Simon’s Town or she would pop in at my home for tea. I will also treasure the memories of the wonderful group gatherings in Kalk Bay where there were sometimes twenty of us meeting for lunch. During all these times Phumeza was always engaging, her eyes brimming with intelligence as she shared her views and patiently listened to others. Phumeza was blessed with the rare balance between having a brilliant intellect and having emotional intelligence. I remember she once told me that the key characteristics she would look for in a husband were empathy, kindness and maturity. These were of course characteristics that reflected her own character.
On 5 February 2021 Phumeza was hospitalised again and she messaged me to say that the diagnosis was a bacterial chest infection and that she was being put on antibiotics. To me this sounded very hopeful. However, all further messages to Phumeza were not received. I then contacted Thandi Puane, her neighbour and friend, who informed me that the Lupus had attacked Phumeza’s lungs. We were still hopeful and kept praying, but on 18 February 2021, I received the terrible news from Thandi that Phumeza had left us.
I would like to end here by saying, farewell dear Phumeza. It is still hard to accept that you are gone and that our plans to meet up once you got better will never happen. The other thing I will miss is praying for you, which had become part of my daily ritual. However, I feel so blessed to have known you. I realise now that you were an angel visiting us for just a short while, but in that short time you touched so many lives with your beauty, your intelligence, your compassion and your kindness. Rest in peace, my friend.