Ntate Moses Maluleka is the oldest employee at my place of work and a true father figure.

American writer, William Arthur Ward once said, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”. Today, and in fact, all of last week, I was thinking of ntate Moses Maluleka, a colleague and one of the longest-serving employees of the company I work for.

He is not in any managerial position. However, over the past two years of being around him, I realised that he was one of the most influential people in my life.

Often in life, especially at workplaces, we seek the acknowledgement of people who are senior to us according to ranks.

We are inclined to be impressed by them. We believe our conduct and work ethic will impress them and that one day that will land us a promotion. Nothing wrong with that.

Nevertheless, there is another side of who we are as employees.

We go through trying times as people. We face difficulties with our families or loved ones.

Sometimes we are weighed down and a little bit discouraged by the vicissitudes of life. But with pick-me-ups from older and wiser people who have seen most of life and lived through the most, like ntate Maluleka, it makes it so much easier to keep going and to keep pushing.

Ntate Maluleka always cheers me up. I hardly speak my home language, Tsonga, but when I am with him, I enjoy full on conversations in that awesome language.

We are often told that we need to leave our personal business at home when we enter the workplace. But sometimes it is not easy to just leave a part of who you are at home like that. Some personal challenges walk through the office doors with us by force. They constantly and persistently bug us as we try to ignore them and focus on our bread-and-butter jobs.

In some of those instances, your professionalism is threatened. Our minds are so preoccupied by the issues of the child at school, the wedding happening at the weekend, the funeral arrangements, the money we failed to send our parents or siblings or even issues with spouses.

Ntate Maluleka at times does not have to say much to me to make me feel better. He is not a man of many words if he doesn’t know you personally, but one of his trademarks is his cup of rooibos or coffee which is always filled with a cheer-up aroma.

I have realised that he is part of a huge community of people at different workplaces that go mostly ignored but are a huge part of our daily lives.

Whenever I mention him at family gatherings, braais with friends or even at corporate events during friendly chats, I hear similar stories.

I have heard stories from people who got the best advice from the security guards at their work places. Some people’s relationships were saved by the wisdom of the cleaning ladies at work.

Even at different homes, the helpers and the gardeners have salvaged mother-and-daughter, father-and-son or daughter-and-father relationships with their wisdom and good judgement in various situations.

There is more to a place of work than doing what we are employed to do. We make friends that go beyond the offices. Some people even find love and marriage, and those relationships should never be restricted to the people who are at the same level as you or those of the same skin colour as you or the same age group.

Ntate Maluleka embodies humility, hope, love and strength.

I remember the words of my English lecturer, Mr Van Wyk when he said; “the three or four years you spend here at the Tshwane University of Technology should not just be about you graduating with a diploma or degree in journalism”.

“You should graduate in other fields that the university does not acknowledge formally. Graduate in hospitality, loving others, compassion, spirituality, self-awareness, self-love and many other fields that make you a complete human being.”

I believe that his words transcend the university lifestyle. It is a mantra that should be applied in workplaces too.

I strive to build relationships with everyone I see daily. Because for me, the greatest lessons in life are not the skills that can be acquired at a workplace.

The best and priceless gifts in life are the people who help shape our character traits and make us better people.

To you ntate Maluleka and the many people who play similar roles in my life and the lives of so many other people, thank you for all you have done to model us into better young men and citizens.

Ntate Maluleka has been a pastor to me when I needed one. He becomes a father to me when the son in me needs a dad. He takes up the psychologist role when the need arises. He is more than just a colleague. Such people in our lives, are hardly shown appreciation. Nha Khensa Tatane!

* Kabelo Chabalala is founder of the Young Men Movement. E-mail, [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star