AT the time of typing this, the number of COVID-19 deaths in South Africa stands at 15 168. Fatalities, especially when expressed in big numbers can simply go over one’s head as just statistics. But even one death hits hard when you lose someone you love.
I lost my brother, Thulani Ntiwane two months ago and this writing is no way about the virus. But a way of healing and honouring my brother who was by far the biggest influence in my life.
So while awaiting a match between Thulani’s beloved Real Madrid taking on Alavés in a La Liga game, we watched a recorded episode from season five of Black-ish. Aptly titled “Black History Month” the arch in which Octavia Spencer makes a special appearance, where her character pays homage to black persons she believes should never be forgotten. It’s only right I jot this, so that Thulani is never forgotten in the jam of all these numbers.
It is said that influence is when you’re not the one talking, and yet your words fill the room. The influence my brother had on me was just that.
As his name suggests, he was a quiet, reserved and nonchalant lanky dude who understood the power of being an African, who loved music, appreciated sport and who had reverence for knowledge.
HE NURTURED MY EAR IN MUSIC
Thulani would always say that I’m his student, to which I’d reluctantly (’cause of pride) admit. My brother’s music collection, over a thousand discs, was like a radio station’s playlist. A childhood friend of his would always joke that Thulani should be a music producer or a DJ.
In his collection you will find The Legendary Roots Crew, Khabzela’s Mekonko, Busi Mhlongo, Incognito, Mfaz’Omnyama, Maxwell, Masibuyele Kujehova, Brothers Of Peace, Gang Starr, Bill Withers, Hotstix, Lenny Kravitz, DJ FRESH, and so on and so on.
In the mid-90s my Thulani appeared in the Tembisan newspaper, after winning a music quiz that ran in the local publication. He walked away with 2PAC’s All Eyez On Me double-disc.
Thulani was a big advocate for buying original albums. He enjoyed tagging all of his CD covers with the trademark ‘Thulas’…this too was etched on me because, when I started buying CDs, I vividly remember scribbling ‘Bongs’ on my Like Water For Chocolate album cover. He shared music with me, this is why I enjoying doing the same for others today.
I grew up listening to a lot of music, hence I never had any problems even in my career when I was presented with the opportunity to interview great artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Ray Phiri, Mary J Blige or Raphael Saadique- I’d always find confidence in the knowledge my brother instilled in me. I could sense his pride-nothing egotistical, but happy that a seed he planted had sprouted in ways he also couldn’t fathom.
HE INTRODUCED ME TO JOBURG
Thulani was the one who showed me Joburg and how to carry myself in the big city. It must’ve been around 2004 when I first went to Carlton Centre, where we took that long and seemingly unending walk on Small Street. He bought me lunch at legendary boxer Baby Jake Matlala’s restaurant while we waited for the movie Troy to start-also my first time at the cinema.
Although I later grew to know the city for myself, it was Thulani who literally held my hand when I first came to eGoli.
HE SPARKED MY INTEREST IN MEDIA
I remember the days when the YFM studios were still in Rosebank, at the mall. I will never forget the feeling of being inside the Y Store-it felt like I was right inside their studios. He somehow knew it would interest me.From then on, the love for journalism, albeit broadcast journalism, began.
It was Thulani who got me reading newspapers every day. He got a subscription for the paper, and even after he moved out of home, he never stopped the paper from being delivered. Making sure that I carry on reading and engaging with the world around me.
HE CONSCIENTISED ME
This happened through music, books and in conversation. I was listening to the Wolves interlude on the Dead Prez Let’s Get Free album recently and it hit me, that at 10/11 years-old I was listening and reciting lyrics about imperialism and how evil the white man is without real comprehension of what was being said.
I remember when I told him that we’re reading Animal Farm in high school. His strong interest in the book (which he later borrowed) grew my interest.
I’ve read Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like a couple of times. I was first intrigued by the title, but more fascinated that my brother was reading such content. I went in and gobbled me some Biko and nothing was the same.
I doubt Tha Bravado, which has a strong voice in telling stories that are for Bantus by Bantus and inspired by Bantus, if it weren’t for Thulani.
SHARED THE BEAUTY OF SPORT
It’s very normal to support the team your dad or your older brother supported. My dad was a Kaizer Chiefs fan and so is my eldest brother. But I became an Orlando Pirate fan and a Gooner because I grew up watching Thulani cheer on Amabhakaniya and Arsenal.
He taught me how to watch the game of soccer. I remember watching that FIFA 2002 World Cup Semi-final between England and Brazil. Sport really brought us together.
I’m the rugby guy in the fam and he played a bit of cricket and soccer . We both had a strong love for sport, hence we spent his last moments watching a Real Madrid game. Whenever we’d see each other we would catch up on what’s happening, on and off the field.
Till we meet again bro,
Your faithful student.
Thulani Ntiwane is survived by his wife and four kids. His mother, two brothers a sister and two nieces. He was 44 years-old.