The day ‘Gafant’ was born on the day of The Arch’s 78th birthday
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Being appointed editor of the fine institution that is the Cape Argus is a big deal. Especially for one aged 31. I realised just how big it was when Pick ’n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman sent me a personal letter of congratulations in 2009 and the Mayor of Cape Town sent me a text with well wishes.
A few months into the tenure though I realised just how big this role was. It was October 7, 2009, to be exact and I was fortunate to spend his 78th birthday with a global icon. I was to speak at an event where our dear Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would be launching a children’s book called God’s Children. The Cape Argus had partnered with the Arch for the launch and had pledged to purchase 100 copies to donate to children.
It proved to be an awkward moment – not least because of my choice of suit for the day. Apart from being ill-fitting, it was an in-between colour; neither blue nor green.
But the biggest blushes – after sweating it out while waiting my turn to speak in The Arch’s illustrious company – was my introduction by the programme director. For some reason, the chap kept referring to me as Gafant and not Gasant. When I took the podium the programme was laying there. And it definitely said Gasant not Gafant. The name stuck with the executives at the paper who started called me Gafant henceforth.
I was mortified. But predictably nobody cared – least of all the Arch.
The Arch, his usual jovial self, read to the children in the most animated way only he could. And of course, with that trademark laugh.
“I am very fond of children. When you look at them and see children of all races wearing the same uniform. If you think about where we come from, we should never be despondent,” he told the audience.
Those words just flowed from the heart. No prepared speech like my twee words as the newspaper editor in support of his book.
It was the way we knew him: a man whose emotions we lived through in his quest to reconcile a nation during our nation’s most painful testimonies at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Through the Arch, we laughed, we cried and we died a little.
He belonged to all of us. But less so those he leaves behind. Mama Leah Tutu told the audience at the 2009 launch of the book: “He’s been promising to retire since 1996, but I don’t think he will – unless he is forced.”
Ma Leah chuckled that she used to threaten to hide his clothes away from him so that he could not go out.
“I never did it, but I bet if I did, he would go out in his pyjamas.”
Rest in peace, our dearest Arch.