Mavis Mahlakoane, a nurse from Milpark hospital who attended to former presidency minister Jackson Mthembu before his passing, on Sunday disclosed how close he was to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Mahlakoane was addressing mourners at the Roman Catholic Church in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga during Mthembu’s funeral wake on Sunday.
Mthembu, 62, died from Covid-19 complications on Thursday having tested positive for the virus earlier this month.
Mahlakoane said Mthembu would always call Ramaphosa on his mobile phone and would always say, “Ramaphosa saying the president will be disappointed”, a phrase she said she did not understand.
“He asked me to give him his phone because he wanted to call his true friend,” Mahlokoane said.
“He said there is one man who understands me better and l am worried that he is going to be disappointed… He said Cyril is the man who understands me better than anyone.”
She described him as a humble and calm man who did not want to be called minister during their interactions.
“He never said nurse a do you know who l am? Mthembu was so humble and down to earth regardless of his position in the society.
Mahlokoane said she would have conversations with Mthembu like long-time friends.
During the service, Ramaphosa also buttressed Mahlakoane’s statements.
“To Mvelase, my good friend, farewell my brother, farewell my friend. Lala ngoxolo. For those who loved him, those who knew him, that we will not see him again, this has stuck so deep.
“He laughed about many things that he shouldn’t have laughed about, even in tougher times he would laugh and make everything look so easy,” Ramaphosa told mourners.
He said South Africa had lost a kind and ever-present servant who would calm them even when under pressure.
Mthembu served faithfully, Ramaphosa said.
One speaker after the other hailed Mthembu for his service to the country, saying he died with his boots on working for South Africa.
ANC deputy secretary Jesse Duarte paid a moving tribute to the late minister.
“We have lost a very important person in our lives. l am struggling to process that he is gone… Our brother is gone and he is not coming back,” said Duarte addrising journalists on Thursday.
Former public protector Thuli Madonsela on Twitter described the late Mthembu as a man with decency.
“There goes a man who epitomised human decency. Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the late minister Jackson Mthembu and to his colleagues at ANC and government. The social justice community has lost a partner. May his kind soul rest in peace.”
His childhood friend, Makhosini Nkosi, could not hold back his tears as he narrated a long friendship which started during their high school days. He said he remembered times when they would tease each other about politics, and play gospel music and cry together until they fell asleep.
“Every time when he was around, he would call me and buy a drink. He would say play a gospel song; l would respond ‘but that will make us cry’. We would play gospel music and cry until we slept. That is the Mthembu l know. So passionate and God-loving,” he said.
Mthembu’s wife, Thembi, whose tribute was read by Mahlakoane, said she was thankful for the wonderful moments they had together.
Mthembu was born at Schoongezicht Farm in Emalahleni (formerly Witbank) in Mpumalanga on June 15, 1958.
He was an anti-apartheid activist, who cut his political teeth in student politics in the 1970s. He continued his activism at the University of Fort Hare, resulting in his expulsion in 1980.
Mthembu served in several strategic roles including ANC’s national executive committee since 2017, as MP, national ANC spokesperson under President Nelson Mandela from 1995 to 1997, and was appointed to the same role again in 2009 to 2014.
He also served as ANC chief whip and minister in the presidency. Mthembu is survived by his wife Thembi an undisclosed number of children and grandchildren.