In memory of Mahlangebi, Olady, Mamkhulu, Goglady, our rock

It’s been months, but finally Mninawa Ntloko has found the strength to pay this beautiful tribute to his mother

10 May 2021 - 14:09
Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko drew her last breath on the morning of December 30 in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.
OUR ONE AND ONLY Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko drew her last breath on the morning of December 30 in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.
Image: Supplied

This is the most difficult piece I’ve had to write in many years behind this keyboard. It literally took me months to get past the opening paragraph without tearing up.  

I would spend days staring at the keyboard, unable to muster the courage to admit, in black and white, that the woman who called me every night to ask if I’d eaten dinner was no more.

The fear of losing my mother has haunted me for the better part of my adult life and I trained myself years ago to never allow this ghastly thought to linger in my mind for longer than five seconds.

But this task became impossible in recent years as Father Time conspired with old age and ill health to force me to face an uncomfortable truth that had increasingly forced its way into my head a lot more often than I would have wanted.

Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko drew her last breath on the morning of December 30 back home at a hospital in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. When my eldest sister, Shirley, called to tell me the heartbreaking news, a part of me irreparably shattered.

My mother was everything. She was a pillar that kept the family together. My sister, Thumeka, and I had the unenviable task of planning a funeral in the Eastern Cape in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mninawa Ntloko's sister, Thumeka, with their mom, Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko.
FOREVER WITH US Mninawa Ntloko's sister, Thumeka, with their mom, Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko.
Image: Supplied

My mom had been ill for some time and while her many trips to doctors and the hospital in her last few months had started to take a toll on the eternally graceful 84-year-old, that phone call cut like a knife.

It was a stiflingly hot day in the west of Johannesburg, yet I will forever remember that morning as the coldest of my life. I still feel the chill today as we attempt to pick up the pieces.

I am the last born in a family of four children, but had to grow up quickly after my older brother, Mninimzi, passed away in November 2008.

My mother was everything. She was a pillar that kept the family together. My sister, Thumeka, and I had the unenviable task of planning a funeral in the Eastern Cape in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

With Shirley stuck in the US due to Covid-19 regulations, it was left to us to complete the task.

The Eastern Cape was hell at the beginning of the year; fear was everywhere.

There were several funerals in our street in the week we arrived from Johannesburg; life had changed. People were scared to leave their yards and we knew this would be no ordinary funeral.

We had seen other families trying to bury their loved ones in the middle of the pandemic and prayed it would never happen to us. But tomorrow is never promised and there we were, enduring the same painful ordeal.

The trip to the mortuary to make final arrangements was made more arduous by the naked fear on the faces of the staff when we arrived at the funeral home.

They were at the business end of this pandemic and very much aware that the chances of contracting this deadly virus were very high in their line of work. The owner of the funeral home is a close family friend who was taught by my aunt, Thobeka, in high school. 

Our relationship with him is such that he buried my brother in 2008, my dad, Tamsanqa Victor, in January 2013 and my cousin, Xolile, in 2014. He was warm and welcoming, but I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough. It reminded me too much of the time I was there to plan my brother and father’s funerals.

My mom had been ill for some time and while her many trips to doctors and the hospital in her last few months had started to take a toll on the eternally graceful 84-year-old, that phone call cut like a knife.
Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko.
PILLAR OF STRENGTH Francina Vuyiswa Ntloko.
Image: Supplied

Funerals back home in my village in Tsomo typically last the entire day, with people arriving as early as 7am and leaving late in the afternoon. We usually slaughter an ox, more than a dozen sheep and several chickens.    

This was not the case with my mother due to Covid-19 protocols and we buried her with about 40 people in attendance, a far cry from the hundreds that attended my brother, dad and cousin’s funerals.

We returned to Tsomo for the cleansing ceremony last month and so much had changed in three months.

The fear that was evident in January had been replaced by the belief that Covid-19 had magically disappeared, much like Listeriosis and swine flu, as one elderly gentleman pointed out.

There were hardly any masks in sight and sanitisers that were everywhere at the beginning of the year had become so rare they should have been added to the endangered list. One woman actually told me to “stop being extra” and take off my mask when I walked into a shop.     

Grief is a truly strange phenomenon.

You can wake up in the morning certain you are making a lot more progress than you realise and then, suddenly, this thing hits you between the eyes the same way a boxer walks into an unexpected uppercut.

The support of those who are close to me has been phenomenal and they have made sure that the past few months have been bearable.

A friend said you never fully recover after losing your mom and while I fully agree with him, that I have finally managed to see this piece to its conclusion must mean I am heading in the right direction.

Rest in peace Mahlangebi, Olady, Mamkhulu, Goglady. You will always be missed.​

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