Death is cruel. It leaves you numb, still and unconvinced. Initially when you hear, it seems like a joke. Often you find yourself saying to the messenger: ‘Please tell me you are joking.’ But more often it is not a joke. The message is not false. While you are in a state of disbelief and denial, as time goes on, and the message is repeated by more messengers, it begins to register in the head that indeed, such a person is no more. Sooner disbelief and denial begin to make way for grief and despair. Feelings of loss and heartache are pronounced by an uncontrollable flowing of tears down the face. It is true: such a person is no more. Indeed, the inevitable has happened. Life has made way for death. We always knew that such a time would eventually come but we can never accept. We can never make peace with the irrevocable reality that which begins must come to an end. The life of a human being too, like any creature on these earthly grounds, unfortunately has to, at some point in time, come to an end. With this unavoidable knowledge and indisputable truth, that after life comes death, we still can never bring ourselves as the living to accept that a loved one, the apple of our eye and the joy of our hearts, has been snatched away from us, forever.
Thus, when the news reached me, through the annals of social media, that Rre Cebo Clement Manyaapelo had lost a battle with a lengthy illness, I could not believe that a tree such as he, who was full of life, has fallen. That a giant such as he, who oozed with energy and strength, had given up against a mere disease. That is not how titans exit the world. Like most of us, I have never had the privilege and pleasure of physically meeting Rre Manyaapelo, but I knew him. Like most of us, I have never had the joy of sitting down with him and engaging in a light conversation over a cup of coffee or share a few of those drinks that tend to undermine mental faculties if consumed recklessly, but I knew him. Like most of you, those of you who are mourning his passing because you are rightfully mourning a family member, I too don’t have a cherished moment where I exchanged a few lighthearted jokes with Rre Manyaapelo, but I knew him. He was my mentor, my role model and most importantly he was my friend. I say with unmistakable confidence that I knew Rre Manyaapelo because of the most powerful medium of all – radio.
The medium of radio in its limited definition, as you and I perceive it, is an incredible vehicle of communication that has the power to take different voices from a distance and bring them into a home, and make it sound like the speaker is right there with you in the house. But not every voice has the charm to uplift and soothe where misery and pain have sought to build a shelter. Not every voice is blessed with the talent to bring laughter where sadness has established a monument. And not every voice has the capacity to paint a picture of joy where a canvas of gloom is forever on display. Cebo Clement Manyaapelo was that rare voice. As they would say in his home language of Setswana, a language that he was so proud of, Cebo Manyaapelo ‘ene ele tsala ya gago ya meso’ – your morning friend, for he hosted a breakfast show in the then Radio Mmabatho, now Motsweding FM, for many years. A colleague of his, Brian Letsogo described him as ‘larger than life’. Often when asked about his life, he would respond with a clever retort: ‘My life is a party.’ It was true; as those who knew him and listened to him all these years on radio and television would attest. His love of soccer – ‘the beautiful game’ – was second to none and his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport he so much treasured was a thing of beauty. Yes, a giant Morula tree has fallen. An incisive library of football has burned down. Bagaetsho, Cebo Manyaapelo is no more.
In a profile interview of Cebo Manyaapelo, conducted by a gentleman with a curious name of Sir Max a few years ago, the interviewer accosted us as South Africans, and perhaps as human beings, for showering the dead with unending praises and tributes after they are gone; omitting to do so while they still live. In deference to Sir Max, I too hang my head in shame for honouring Cebo Manyaapelo when he is no longer around. It is our common habit as creatures of this world to never celebrate those we admire while they are still alive, because we seem to believe that to do so would undermine our being, that it would belittle us, lower our stature in society and propel the recipient of our adoration into the stratosphere, instantly ordaining him or her a god that will turn and trample on us ordinary mortals. But Sir Max is correct in rebuking us for our temporary honour of the dead, our brief moment of applause and fleeting celebration of the departed. It is shallow and speaks more of our dubious character as the living than the permanent memory of the nonliving.
Fifty years ago, on Sunday, 07th of May 1967, South Africa was blessed with an ordinary boy. On Wednesday, 22nd of November 2017, the world was robbed of one of its best citizens, a giant of broadcasting. In his five decades as a citizen of this world, an inhabitant of this planet living on borrowed time, Rre Manyaapelo inspired happiness and jubilation in our lives. His voice broadcasted to us through the sophisticated infrastructure of the public broadcaster – the SABC – encouraged us to be the best of ourselves. As I said, I never knew Rre Manyaapelo in the narrow sense of the word, but I knew him. Our relationship was that of broadcaster and listener; a sacred bond of two strangers brought together by their love of radio, a taste for knowledge and appreciation of the small pleasures of life.
Anyone will tell you that to assume is dangerous, but nevertheless I will take the risk and say: I assume that I speak for everyone who admired Cebo Manyaapelo when I say the loss of his person is a personal loss. His departure to the world where no computer can reach, and no cellphone can connect to, has burrowed a hole that can never be filled in each of our hearts. Some will accuse me of hyperbole when I say the exit of CC from our universe has left a permanent space of loneliness in our souls. They will accuse me of being extravagant with words when I say the death of Rre Manyaapelo has left each of us cold and numb. But to say otherwise would be nothing short of lies. To say otherwise would be an injustice, a disservice and a dishonour to the memory of Cebo Clement Manyaapelo.
On Thursday, the 30th of November 2017, eight days after the body and soul of Cebo Manyaapelo reached a heartbreaking agreement to part ways, his remains will be interred into the grounds he walked with vigour for fifty years. Speaker after speaker will take to the podium to express their pain and sorrow at the passing of Rre Manyaapelo, sharing with the world memories of this legend of broadcasting. Those of us who knew Cebo Manyaapelo, because he was our friend, will take to private corners and mourn in our way the life and times of this great – mogale wa kgaso.
Years ago, the close family and friends of Cebo Manyaapelo, made peace with the fact that CC no longer belonged to them alone. He was of us and we of him. They accepted a long time ago that like a bolt in an engine, he was a critical part of our lives as the general public; a voice of hope for the desponded and a champion of the downtrodden. In this tough time of bereavement, it is almost impossible to imagine the pain and anguish of his close family and friends, but for Cebo Manyaapelo was a family member in each household where his voice boomed, I think we are permitted to convey to them these words of comfort: you are not alone during this dark hour of grief. Your loss is our loss. Rre Manyaapelo said when he was alive and healthy: ‘My life is a party.’ Even though his passing is an agony that will take long to heal, I believe he would want for his memory to remain a party in our lives, until we too are summoned to join him in the world of the departed. May the lively soul of Cebo Clement “CC” Manyaapelo rest in peace; and as we bid him farewell, let us paraphrase and pledge these words that he would exchange each morning with one Ntate Mohapi: ‘Rre Manyaapelo, re tla dula re thabile. Ka dinako tsotlhe.’ Pula!