A tribute to an amazing leader, Ayanda Raymond Nkuhlu

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We lost Chris Hani at 50, Steve Biko left us at 30, Tiyo Soga passed away at 42, and now Ayanda Nkuhlu is no more at 48 years. How do we measure his contribution, the impact he has had and the legacy he has left behind at only 48? 

In the words of Helen Steicer Rice, time is no measure for a person’s life or contribution : 

“ Time is not measured
by the years that you live
But by the deeds that you do 
and the joy that you give-
And each day as it comes
brings a chance to each one
To love to the fullest,
leaving nothing undone
That would brighten the life
or lighten the load
Of some weary traveler
lost on Life’s Road-
So what does it matter 
how long we may live
If as long as we live 
we unselfishly give” 

For Ayanda Nkuhlu, it is not the years in his life that count, it is the life in his years.

Ayanda Raymond Nkuhlu is now no more – we will never see that infectious smile, marvel at his brilliant intellect, be on the receiving of his sharp tongue, be regaled by his dramatic stories, be beneficiaries of his generosity and benevolence or be victims of his naughty machiavellian schemes again. What a loss, a loss to his beloved family, his wife and children, his friends, colleagues, business partners and the nation as a whole. 

Bulelwa Mbangu describes such a loss as the falling of a giant tree: 
Ukuwa kweqhawe

Uwile umthi omkhulu wohlanga
Uwile umthi omkhulu wesizwe
Uwile umthi omkhulu womhlaba
Wawa sashiyek’isizwe simatshekile
Awuvuthuzwanga mimoya midaka yakuthi
Awubethwanga zinkqwithelo namakhephu
Ntonje mgawuli uthile ungenantlonipho
Efukam’inzondo wonde ngawo wawosela
Azi sobheka phina xa udandalaz’oluhlobo
Sosithela ngantoni na kwizithonga zenkohlakalo
Sobambelela phi! 
ubuyintsika nje
Sosulwa nguban’iinyembezi ubulithemba nje

As we think of Ayanda’s life, as we reflect on his contribution and examine his legacy, we must heed the advice of Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela, 

“ In real life we deal, not with gods, but with ordinary humans like ourselves: men and women who are full of contradictions, who are stable and fickle, strong and weak, famous and infamous, people in whose bloodstream the muckworm battles daily with potent pesticides. On which aspect one concentrates in judging others will depend on the character of the particular judge. As we judge others so we are judged by others. The suspicious will always be tormented by suspicion; the credulous will ever be ready to lap up everything from oo thobela sikutyele, while the vindictive will use the sharp axe instead of the soft feather duster. But the realist, however shocked and disappointed by the frailties of those he adores, will look at human behavior from all sides and objectively and will concentrate on those qualities in a person which are edifying, which lift your spirit (and) kindle one’s enthusiasm to live”.

I choose to concentrate on those qualities in Ayanda that were edifying, those qualities that we would remember the most about Magope: 

• He grew up in a household that was founded on the age-old family values of ubuntu, rooted in African traditions and culture that celebrated the connectedness of the individual with the family and society. Ayanda had the deepest roots yet had a global reach. 

• His upbringing was very distinct- he was fed on a diet of sacrosanct values of humility, sacrifice, commitment and service. It was in that robust upbringing that he honed the skills to compete for the share of his voice and presence. The mantra was always that education was the ticket out of poverty, and the acquisition of knowledge the guarantee for a life of independence and human development. I have known all 7 Nkuhlu brothers and have been friends with all of them, you can see the value of their upbringing, the investment in their education and their high value intellect in everything they do. Ayanda was shaped and influenced by these experiences. 

• Ayanda had multiple identities. He was a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend, comrade and business partner. He is survived by his beloved wife, Candice, five children – Mbuso, Nombuso, Lwando, Thalitha and Liyana, four brothers – Mxoleli, Mfundo, Mandisi and Sabelo, cousins, nephews and nieces. Most of all, he was a caring human being, a sweet soul who loved generously and with an abiding commitment to the causes dear to him. We all claim a piece of him for ourselves, in some way he belonged to all of us, yet belonged to none of us as he was much bigger than one identity or description. 

• To his family, he was an unwavering pillar of strength, a source of inspiration with boundless energy. He loved his family abundantly and was much loved in return. Ayanda was most dependable, an effective communicator, often orchestrating and coordinating things for the family. He will be sorely missed for the pivotal role he played in the family, especially as the go-to uncle, and the immense contribution he made to society. He loved his family, from across the length and breadth of this country, with such passion, and was always there for all members of the family, young and old. The outpouring of grief is a testament to what he meant to the many who crossed his path.

• He cherished the ideal of freedom and worked tirelessly for its attainment. He contributed to causes to improve the quality of life, especially in education. There are so many young people he put through school, students whose education he funded and schools he supported financially – he did this without regard to recognition or praise . 

• He had a formidable intellect, above average work ethic, attention to detail and a passionate commitment to excellence in both business and the public sector. Although he had a soft disposition it belied his disciplinarian nature and his combative debating styles that destroyed many arguments across a range of topics. He will also be remembered for the many tongue-lashings he meted out, to young and old; family or friend; colleague or foe. 

• Ayanda was the ideal public servant – hardworking, dedicated, committed, driven, principled, and conscientious. He easily straddled political, policy, and administrative matters. His career was characterized by long hours in the office, detailed administrative work, ground breaking legislative achievements, delicate negotiations with stakeholders and monumental policies that will forever change our society. 

• After leaving the Government sector, he showed his dynamism and versatility as a business entrepreneur and a consummate transactor. He had a sharp business acumen and a strategic mind, often leading new business ventures and breakthrough transactions. He served on a number of corporate boards, in addition to running an investment company.

• He lived an abundantly rich and fulfilling life, it was an exhilarating and intoxicating experience for all those who were touched by him. His life was never dull, it had its ups and downs, highs and lows and many near death experiences. There was never a dull moment in his life, his debates, his passions, his intellectual duels and the fun he had with his many friends from all walks of life. 

• Ayanda was consumed by politics, he had amazing political instincts, and had the uncanny ability to analyze political events, engage key people for brilliant outcomes. He and Andile were passionate in their commitment, robust in debate, and sometimes even brazen in their politics. They had the discipline to combine deep intellectual pursuit with the hustle and bustle of political activism.

• Ever the strategist, and the gentler of the twins, Ayanda had the rare ability of letting others, including his twin brother Andile, take the limelight without being rendered redundant. He always had the courage to stand his ground and was uncompromising in his commitment to principle. He worked at the highest levels of government and corporate life, but could speak truth to power and had the humility to relate to people from all walks of life. 

• Ayanda never conformed to society’s norms and dictates, he always chose his own path. Ralph Waldo Emerson enjoins us not to go where the path may lead, he implores us to go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Ayanda did exactly that, he left indelible marks in our hearts, unique ideas in our minds, and amazingly fond memories. He was always his best authentic self and not a perfect replica of somebody else. 

Ayanda was certainly no angel, and had his fair share of imperfections. He loved life and lived it to the fullest. He was multifaceted, broad minded, selfless, generous, passionate, principled and highly intellectual. 

As we examine his life, as we assess his contribution and his worth, I am reminded of the ever green words of Theodore Roosevelt, in Sobborne in 1910, 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I can boldly proclaim, that Ayanda Raymond Nkuhlu’s place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat, he was in the arena, fighting the good deeds throughout his short life. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson says, 
“ Death comes to all of us, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold. “ Ayanda’s great achievements have built a momentum that shall endure until the sun grows cold. 

We dare not name buildings in his honor, that is not how Ayanda would want to be remembered, this is not what he would expect of us – what he would expect is ruthless honesty in our discourse, peace and joy in our families, the pursuit of knowledge and excellence in the public service and the development of young leaders, and generous contributions to our communities. Such monuments will be more enduring than any physical structure and would last until the sun grows cold. 

What lesson should we take from Ayanda’s life ? 

In his seminal speech, delivered at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, Robert Kennedy, who also died at young age ( 42) argued, 

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Ayanda always stood for high ideals, and his efforts and those of others sent forth a ripple of hope that helped bring the apartheid system down. 

You may argue that Ayanda was unique, and that you may not have to take the bold steps he took from a very young age. Martin Luther King jnr, who also passed away at a very young age (39) cautioned against this way of thinking : 

“ You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. 

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.” 

Ayanda has achieved so much at 48 than many have done at age 100, each one of us must ask ourselves if we are living a life of substance and purpose. 

SEK Mqhayi wrote the first Xhosa novel in 1914, “ Ityala lamaWele”, years from now, I hope that someone will chronicle the life and times of Ayanda and Andile Nkuhlu. That book, hopefully be called “ Imbali yamaWele” will tell the full story of their impact and influence in business, politics and social developments in the Eastern Cape, in South Africa and the world. 

As we bid farewell to Ayanda and obviously Andile, we can only paraphrase a famous poem about rebels like them; 

To the crazy ones 

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They were not fond of rules. And they had no respect for the status quo. You could quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you could not do is to ignore them. 

Because these Nkuhlu twins changed things. They pushed the human race and South Africa forward. And while some may have seen them as the crazy ones, we as family and friends saw them as geniuses. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. They changed the world and changed us in the process, we are all better off because they lived and crossed our paths. 

Goodbye my brother, goodbye my friend and comrade. You and Andile were the younger brothers I never had. I loved you unconditionally and you both had a very very special place in my heart. 

Hamba kakuhle Qhawe, Hamba kakuhle Qabane, qhawe lama qhawe. You join a galaxy of stars of our once glorious student movement, the pride of our erstwhile liberation movement, who all also left us too soon like Elaine Salo, Andile Nkuhlu, Sheya Kulati, Thami Rubusana, Chule KK Papiyane, Noby Ngombane, Mike Koyana, and Kgomotso Masebelanga.

Hamba kakuhle Njeya, Khwali, Mdubela, Matu, Qhula ugqatso ulufezile. Icekwa lilele nathi, usibulisele ku Njeya omkhulu, uWiseman, naku MaMjoli, iWushekazi, kuVeza uMkhuluwa wethu, naku Andile, iwele lakho u” Barry”. Ubaxelele ukuba usapho lwamaNjeya lusamanyene, luhloniphe iimfundiso zabo, luyanda, kwaye luyathandana, lilulutho esizweni. Sohlala sibakhumbula.

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