One of the best interviews I have ever conducted as a journalist was with Pitso Mosimane at his home in 2016, while working for a former employer. To this day, I look at the picture of Mosimane and yours truly in his study – where there’s autobiographies and books about periodization – and wonder how on earth a young man from Lebowakgomo, in Limpopo, got to interview arguably the best coach on the continent in his home.
I had conducted many an interview with the coach prior to that, but never in the comfort of his home. You see, trying to get ‘Jingles’ over the phone is not easy. My colleagues in the media can attest to that. So, you can imagine what it was like trying to get an interview at his home, where he is away from all the attention football brings his way. It was not too long after Sundowns had won the 2016 CAF Champions League and almost everybody in the media wanted to get a piece of the now Al Ahly coach.
But this column is not about the legendary Mosimane. It’s about the person who helped organise this tête-à-tête, Thulani Thuswa, who was the communications and media officer at Sundowns during that crazy period. I say ‘crazy’ because Sundowns were the talk of the town and Thulani had to deal with so much in terms of requests from media personnel wanting to get interviews from players and coaching staff at the club. But somehow, this man took it all in his stride. In fact, at times he just made it look so easy, despite the many calls he’d receive whenever I was in his presence.
Two Sundays ago, quite early in the morning, I got a call from Hlompho Kekana telling me that Thulani had been involved in a car accident in Johannesburg. He told me he had been to the scene of the accident earlier that morning.
I was shocked. Not Thulani. The night before his passing, he tweeted about how much he misses his boy, the late Motjeka Madisha. A few days before that, he tweeted about the late John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu. I tend to ask myself why he was tweeting about people who are no more, just before his death. Was this a premonition of sorts? The first thing I thought about, after hearing that he is no more, was his smile. Thulani was forever smiling, even on a bad day. I also thought about his daughter. I would often bump into Thulani at the Pick ‘n Pay or the Romans Pizza in Midrand and most of the time, he was with his daughter. So, when I heard that he is no more, I was devastated. I mean, just a week before his passing, I had seen him at a Hyundai event organized by him, where Percy Tau was getting a new car from the automotive company. Two weeks before that, we met up for drinks at a spot in Midrand because I had asked him to give advice to a young man who wants to get into football as a player agent. Thulani made time for everyone in the media and did not treat anyone differently, whether you were an experienced journalist or an intern trying to cut your teeth in the industry. He was fair and tried by all means to fulfil requests. And believe you me, the requests came in droves. He understood his job as a media and communications manager, building solid relationships with almost everyone in the industry. Thulani had an unbelievable ability to make you feel like he was helping you alone. I don’t know how he did it, but I always felt like he was making an effort just for me. But the truth is, he did the same for many others in the industry who have stories about how much he helped them.
I remember when Sundowns won their first title under Mosimane in 2013/14, I spent a lot of time at Chloorkop. I met up with Anthony Laffor, Lebohang Mokoena and Elias Pelembe – at different times – and all Thulani would ever say to me was, “Come through, Mfanakithi”. Sundowns training sessions were always long, because at times they would also have video sessions, so I would sit in the office with Thulani and he would never stop talking. He shared stories about the happenings at Sundowns and he was just always laughing about something. I’d sometimes get tired of waiting too long for training sessions to end, but Thulani’s sense of humour, for all it was worth, provided some form of entertainment for this newsman, with deadlines sitting on my neck.
When the Tshwane giants travelled to Egypt for the Champions League final in 2016, Thulani pushed for the club to have media with the team for what would turn out to be a historic moment in the club’s history. After the game, in typical Thulani Thuswa fashion, we got as many players as we wanted for interviews. Sundowns were trending in the media for weeks and Thulani understood that it would help take the club’s brand to another level. He made it easy for us to work while we were in Egypt because we had access to the players and coaching staff after they had lifted the trophy. To this day, it remains the best trip I have gone on as a journalist and I can tell you that I’ve been on quite a lot of trips in my 13 years in the industry. He left the Chloorkop-based outfit a couple of years ago, but he still held the club close to heart and had such a great relationship with the players, especially the likes of Kekana, Tiyani Mabunda and Denis Onyango.
I attended his memorial service in Johannesburg last week and there was just pure devastation. I got to realise that I was not the only one Thulani touched. Many others, including Mosimane, were there to celebrate the life of someone who wore his heart on his sleeve. Everyone had a story to share about him, which made it quite special. I asked to write this column this week because I felt people needed to know how special this man was, not only to his family, but to those of us in the media industry. He was a friend, a colleague and a brother and he will forever be missed. We will no longer see his big smile at the stadium or at events, but it will forever remain in our hearts. Rest in peace, Thulani Thuswa. You played your part in the time you were given on this earth and I am grateful for the moments I got to spend with you. Football has lost someone who was really passionate about the game. Anyone who knew Thulani would know that he loved using the word ‘Mfanakithi’ whenever he addressed his acquaintances.
In wrapping up, I would like to say: Go Well, Mfanakithi. Till we meet again, my brother.