Pretoria – Senior government officials, friends and colleagues of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi's late spokesperson Joe Maila on Thursday narrated touching eulogies at a memorial service hosted by the Government Communication and Information Services (GCIS) in Pretoria.
"I'm sure colleagues in the media can attest to this ... I never regarded Joe as a spin doctor, as many government spokespersons are always referred to. I'm not saying anything about the others, but I never thought of him as a spin doctor for two reasons," Motsoaledi said as he addressed the memorial service.
"In the department of health we did not believe in spinning things, and I can proudly say up to so far, we didn't have much to spin on. And I never forced him to spin on anything. I asked him to speak as genuinely and as honestly as possible on matters. The second reason was simply that spinning was never his nature anyway. He wouldn't."
Motsoaledi recounted how Maila would sometimes burst into the ministerial office, "red faced and quite irritated" after provincial health spokespersons "would have tried to spin a story that affects all of us and did a very bad job of it".
The minister said he always strategised with Maila on how to move on from the communication crisis.
On behalf of government's communicators, Department of Basic Education's Elijah Mhlanga told the gathering that Maila served with distinction.
"Joe will be solely missed in this fraternity, and by me in particular. He was my neighbour in the Pretoria CBD, the department of health as well as the department of basic education share the same physical space in Struben Street. In addition to that, if I didn't meet him in the trenches, we would meet at the Hope Restoration Ministries - a church in Kempton Park on Sundays," said Mhlanga.
"He served this government and indeed the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi with distinction. Aside from raising the bar in terms of public communication, he also cared deeply about health, particularly of young people and the well-being of the vulnerable."
Maila’s friend, Harold Maloka spoke fondly of their love for the sport of golf and local soccer club Mamelodi Sundowns.
“He was always a professional and worked hard to ensure that the message of a healthy lifestyle reaches all,” said Maloka.
“One of the things I remember about him is that he was always a snazzy dresser. He was always on point. Even when he was travelling abroad and he sees expensive shoes, he would call me and say between you and me one of us must wear these shoes.”
Earlier this week, Maloka, who is also handling media inquiries on behalf of the Maila family, extended gratitude to South Africans for the outpouring of support.
Maila died on Thursday last week in a shooting accident in Pretoria.
“The Maila family has been saddened and learned with shock of the passing of Mr Joe Maila. The pain of losing Buti Joe has left and brought unbearable pain to the family. However, as the family we draw strength from the countless messages we received from all his friends, colleagues in government and in the media, and the public at large,” said Maloka in a statement.
“The family would like to express its sincere appreciation and gratitude for all the messages and support during this difficult time as they come to terms with this painful loss.”
The circumstances of Maila’s passing are subject of a police investigation.
“The family wish to reiterate its request for the media and members of the community to allow them space and time to grieve as they prepare to lay Buti Joe to his final resting place,” the statement added.
The family has decided that the funeral will take place on Saturday at Potters House Church in Ivy Park in Polokwane, Limpopo province.
The GCIS and the Ministry of Health hosted the memorial service on Thursday.