A Tribute to the Late Dr. Ngoako David Thebehali: Servanthood, Leadership, and Love.

The following remarks were delivered by Herman Mashaba, President of ActionSA, at the funeral of the Late Dr. Ngoako David Thebehali.

Good Morning,

Khotsong,

Thobela,

Sanibonani,

Avuxeni,

Ndimatsheloni

Molweni,

This morning we gather here to pay tribute to a great South African, a devout Christian, and one of Soweto’s greatest sons.

Before I proceed with my address this morning, I want to begin by offering my sincerest posthumous apologies to Dr. Thebehali and his family for not having had the time to visit him in recent times until today as we come to lay him to rest.

Over the years, we became so well acquainted that we agreed to see each other as much as possible so we could keep in touch in between our respectively demanding schedules.

I was sad to learn of his passing last week after not being able to do so in a while.

My wife Connie and I just flew up from our family holiday in KZN to attend this farewell today, and I am deeply honoured that the family has allowed me to deliver this address and pay my last respects to a man I loved and respected dearly.

As it is custom in our culture, when someone we love passes, we do our best to remember their good deeds to society, even though in some cases, we really should be telling the truth and not just paint those whom we all know to have done terrible things in good light just because they have passed on.

I am glad that today is not one of those instances.

Today we have come to honour a man whose good works cannot be denied.

A man of absolute integrity and commitment to society.

A man who was unflinching in his call to serve his community.

To summarise my tribute to Dr. Thebehali, I have titled my speech: Servanthood, Leadership, and Love.

These three words for me, capture the essence of the man we gather here to honour this morning.

Dr. Thebehali was a true servant of his community.

We stand here in this place, Soweto, reaping the benefits of his many contributions to this community.

Soweto is a city in its own right today because of the work that began in the early 80s following his election as the Mayor of Soweto in 1978.

During his term in office as Mayor, he managed to secure about R268m from various South African banks to fund the electrification of Soweto, at the height of apartheid oppression.

At a time when that system’s primary objective was to keep our communities underdeveloped and deprive our people of adequate living conditions, while white communities enjoyed the fruit of our labour in bottomless abundance.

At a time when some of us as young students were roaming the streets of Garamotse in Hammanskraal, envying Soweto, a place we aspired to visit and live in.

A place that gave refuge to many of our heroes and sheroes who left the rural homelands to come to Johannesburg in search of better work opportunities.

Where the names of young, powerful political activists like Tsietsi Mashinini, businesspeople like the late Dr. Richard Maponya, and the founding father of our democratic nation, President Nelson Mandela.

And of course, Dr. Thebehali, reverberated across the nation, calling upon all of us to get up, stand up, and fight against apartheid injustice.

People like Dr. Thebehali did just that.

Just for interest: how many of us here can remember a Soweto without lights? Not to mention a sewage system or tarred road infrastructure?

Who can remember a Soweto without Vista University, that is today the University of Johannesburg, Soweto Campus; one of the most beautiful university campus environments our country has to offer, where many of our children can study and still be close to home!

When we talk about property rights and ownership of land today, it was trailblazers like Dr. Thebehali who paved the way and led the process for the people of Meadowlands and Diepkloof, who had occupied and paid for services over many years to receive their Title Deeds.

Those deed holders will forever remember the part he played in the handing over of these important documents to them and their families. 

Dr. Thebehali was a strong leader.

Having been Mayor of Soweto and later serving on various boards that include the bus company PUTCO and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, Dr. Thebehali’s leadership was exemplary.

It was his example that inspired some of the choices and decisions I made as the Mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

I wanted to bring change to the City and to improve the living conditions of many of our residents who continue to live in squalor well after the fall of apartheid.

I stand here confidently today having been mentored by a leader of his calibre, who helped shape my newfound calling as a public servant today.

I stand before you today, proud to be able to stand my ground in every decision I make in the work I now do as the leader of our newly formed political party, ActionSA.

I continue to draw courage and inspiration from his example as a servant leader, as I too hope to contribute meaningfully to society towards building the kind of South Africa, he, and his peers both dreamt of and fought for.

I hope that all of us will now pick up the baton in our respective areas and play our part to build a better society for future generations.

Most fundamental of all his achievements was in 1984 when he led the establishment of the Fourways Ministries in Orlando East, a spiritual home for well over 3000 members today.  

Dr. Thebehali was a loving man.

As a Pastor, he led many ministries in the church that included the marriage ministry.

This was one of the many values we had in common: the love of family.

I, as he did, am a strong believer in building strong families.

Having grown up in a child-headed household after losing my father at the age of two, and my mother working as a domestic in white suburbia, it was my sisters who raised me.

Strong young women who ensured that things did not fall apart while Mama was away at work.

It was through them that I learnt the importance of teamwork in a family, where everyone had a contribution to make to keep the house in order.

Please indulge me for special acknowledgement of Mme Mma Thebehali, and the family for allowing Connie and me to be part of your family.

Our lives are so much richer having had Dr. Thebehali and all of you be part of our family too.

For this, we will forever be grateful!

It is our sincerest prayer that you all continue to live in the simple abundance under the guidance and protection of the Lord whom you have served so diligently.

To the entire congregation of Fourways Ministries Church, I will be failing if I did not acknowledge your commitment to the ministry alongside working with Dr. Thebehali.

Together you have built a place many can call their spiritual home, a place of refuge, and comfort from many of life’s challenges.

May you continue to serve God’s people with the humility, care, and love that we have become accustomed to under Dr. Thebehali’s leadership.

I have absolutely no doubt that the church will continue to grow from strength to strength.

Few of us can deny that our country needs an even stronger church voice today than ever if we are to turn back the tide of moral, social, and political depravity.

May the memory of Dr. Thebehali burn ever so brightly in our minds that we may take on the collective tasks ahead with renewed vigour.

Let us each get up, stand up, and Act As One to make our country a better place for all our people.

Thank you.

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