By Poloko Tau

One of the country's greatest mathematicians and educationists, the kingmaker, a maestro - these were some of the titles fittingly conferred on the late Professor Thamsanqa Wilkinson Kambule on Thursday.

During a memorial service in Soweto, speaker after speaker described Kambule as a valuable teacher.

Former president Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele stood at the entrance to the Orlando Community Hall as the family slowly walked in, carrying Kambule's ashes.

The service was attended by several former students of Kambule's, including Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, talkshow host Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, Reverend Motlalepule Chabaku and Dr Trevor Mdaka.

Acting National Prosecutions Authority boss Mokotedi Mpshe and Judge Nkola Motata were also there.

Affectionately known as "TW", Kambule was remembered as an uncompromising teacher who had dedicated his life to promoting education among black children and encouraging them to study maths and science.

Chabaku, a member of the Gauteng Legislature, remembered Kambule as a "great man who made South Africa great so much that whites used to beg him to come teach them science and mathematics at universities".

Mdaka, who also became Kambule's doctor, described his former teacher as an "intensely fearless" man who used to confront feared gangs whose members had terrorised communities and schoolchildren.

Mbeki spoke of Kambule's legacy.

"Long after he had passed his retirement age, Professor Kambule moved among us still to inspire us to follow in his footsteps to advance the goal to whose realisation he had dedicated his life, the nurturing of the excellent South Africans whom the eminent African-American teacher, scholar and freedom fighter, WEB du Bois, once described as The Talented Tenth," he said.

"Death indeed cannot take Wilkie Kambule from us because the example he set of what the generations that live, and the generations of the future, must do to build a new nation will never die but will live on forever, an indestructible monument to an outstanding patriot."

Mbeki said that to honour the memory of Kambule, people had to answer some difficult questions, such as "whence will come the teachers of the calibre of Wilkie Kambule, who understand that their profession is a calling, requiring of them to take on the custodianship of our youth and our nation as a labour of love?"

Kambule died at the age of 88 on August 7 while receiving treatment for a lung infection at Unitas Hospital in Centurion.

His family had fulfilled his last wish and cremated him within 48 hours of his death.