When someone you have lived with for 30 years takes her last gasp and leaves these shores, you are left empty, emotionally scarred – all because you have lost part of you.
You realise you have lost a wife, mother and a lifelong coach – who could easily tell you when you messed up, but equally give you a hug when you excelled.
In good and challenging times, friends and relatives knew me to be in no other company, other than that of Nobulali, whom we recently laid to rest after a short illness, which doctors have diagnosed as complications from an ulcer.
One of the many achievements my wife often prided herself on was being able to send her sons – Ntsika, Mkhanyiseli and Kwanda – to the mountain to become men, in line with isiXhosa custom called ulwaluko.
As men, she would often remind them that the custom was not just about circumcision, but referred to brains and leadership.
Suddenly there is a huge void in the house, with them looking up to me to fill their mother’s big shoes in continuing her role of guiding them through life.
The Sokutu matriarch would also remind them that, to her, they remained her boys but were expected to wash dishes, do washing, cook and clean the floors because there was no household work based on gender.
“My mother was firm, taught us and brought us up very well.
“I do not know what people will say, because they do not know my father going to the shop without my mother.
“It is a new world we are all going to have to get used to,” were the words of Mkhanyiseli, delivering a eulogy at his mother’s funeral in Port Elizabeth.
Despite there having been 50 people at the Zwide family home, in line with national state of disaster regulations, we have been strengthened in our loss by the several messages of condolence and support we have received from friends, colleagues and relatives.
The old adage “when days are dark, friends are few”, was traded for “umntu ngu muntu ngabantu (you are a person because of other people)”.
The groundswell of support during mourning has been comforting – especially coming from some people who have walked a similar path in their past.
Peaceful, friendly, witty and warm are some perfect adjectives to describe my wife’s disposition. I could think of no one else to bounce ideas off and pick brains on issues other than my Nobulali. If she did not know the subject, she would come up with a suggestion on where I could get information.
If there is anything positive that has come out of the lockdown, which has led to most of us working remotely, it has been to be able to spend the past months with her at home. It is those final months I will treasure, until 14 July when she passed away while being transported to hospital.
She lived a life I will forever be thankful for, having been a huge influence and having left a mark not to be erased. At high-profile events, which included the Sandhurst welcome dinner in honour of liberation stalwart Oliver Tambo’s return to South Africa after years in exile, I could think of no other companion for me and late veteran photographer Alf Kumalo.
Nobulali was not one to be intimidated by being in the company of the political and business who’s who at dinner parties.
The big tree has fallen.
Hamba kahle, maNkwali.