By Chris Bishop, Head of Programming, CNBC Africa.
Xolani Gwala, veteran broadcaster, hard-working professional and outstanding human being; the sort of comrade you would want next to you in a trench – farewell. I will never forget your joyful laughter, nor your kind and gentle spirit. In this bitchy, back stabbing world of the media I never heard an unkind word from you or about you. That is the measure of the man.
The last time we met, a few months ago, we laughed from the first second we spoke to the last moment we hugged farewell on the car park at Cresta in Johannesburg where we had spent a joyful few hours at a restaurant.
The get together, in May, was born of Xolani’s famous mischief. I had phoned another comrade of ours, political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi, to ask him to sit with me on the desk for CNBC Africa’s election coverage. Xolani, who was with Matshiqi at the Cresta restaurant, saw my number come up on the phone and pretended to be the man himself. He proceeded to ask me all kinds of strange and personal questions. I was taken in for about three minutes before realisation hit me.
“Gwala!!” I shouted in mock indignation at the other end of the line. I can still hear his trade mark rapid-fire laughter at the other end; a laugh that could light up the sky.
It took me 20 minutes to get to the restaurant and the three of us sat for hours of stories and more laughter. Xolani was clearly in pain and was preparing to go to Israel for another bout of treatment. He told me how he was diagnosed with cancer when he got the sweats after completing a marathon in London.
“Ï just thought it was just flu!” he said.
I am still struck by the bravery and serenity with which he faced his illness. He told me of his treatment and showed me the remains of his poor liver in pictures on his phone.
We talked of the old days when he was a young producer and aspiring TV presenter at the SABC and I was his Senior Executive Producer/mentor more than two decades ago. We laughed about the snotty, privileged, people who used to ring up to complain about his Zulu accent. To their annoyance, and often to a heap of abuse in return, I would tell them Mr Gwala was going to be a big name in broadcasting in South Africa and they had better get used to it. Down the years a big smile of satisfaction spread across my face when I heard him going like a steam train on the airwaves.
As the evening around the restaurant table drew to a close. We talked of the best of the gilded days. The laughs and mishaps at work, the frenzied parties and how Xolani always knew a place downtown where we could buy booze around the clock.
As we hugged goodbye on the car park, Xolani looked me square in the face.
“They were the best of times,” he said before turning away to his car.
Indeed Mr Gwala they were and you were the best of broadcasters. I salute you.
Get the best of CNBC Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent. Sign up here.