Solly was spear that pierced lion’s heart and spoke truth to power
Johannesburg - A soldier has fallen, a spear that pierced a lion’s heart and held truth to power is no more. And no more is the brave warrior that used to hold a raging bull by its sharp horns and brought it to its knees.
Solly Maphumulo was one courageous journalist who walked into a lion’s den armed with a pen and paper so she could tell it like it is, without any fear or favour.
Like many of us, Solly dodged bullets, survived dirty tricks but didn’t allow death threats to deter her from her quest for the truth.
When I first met Solly many years ago, she was getting death threats and her phone had been illegally bugged and monitored. She wanted my advice on how I survived such barbaric acts over the years.
Although we were working for rival publications at the time, we were never enemies. We used to cross-reference sensitive information without stealing each other’s stories. We had a healthy competition to scoop one another, then phone each other to gloat about it. Whoever lost owed the other lunch.
I remember buying Solly a number of lunches after she scooped me. She was a rose that grew brighter and beautifully in the garden of The Star, a newspaper she was working for.
She was fearless, bold and valorous. I used to call her the station commissioner from a factious Maphumulo police station. Every time I called her, I would say “Station commissioner, I would like to open a case, someone stole taxpayers’ money and they deserve to be sent to jail.”
She was sagacious, intelligent and brilliant with a bus load of sources, a journalist’s treasure pot. What really worked for us was the fact that we never shared the same sources, which was good to double-check information from our different sources.
And there was no point, in all our dealings, where one was compelled to disclose their sources. She had good sources from crime intelligence and I had a number of politicians as my moles.
So, when the Sunday Times was looking for a “kick-ass journalist” to join its newsroom back in the day, I strongly recommended her for the job and she got it.
We worked together briefly at the Sunday Times before she was forced to leave because someone from the news desk wanted her “to chase down broken ambulances” instead of cracking good investigative stories.
They tried to pit us against one another a number of times, and in the end they lost a great journalist, who was caged instead of being set free to do what she did best – investigations.
Solly rejoined The Star after leaving the Sunday Times and produced hardhitting front page stories to show what she was made of. She took no prisoners and gave us serious competition.
But still it didn’t stop me from reporting any crime to my station commissioner. When Solly decided to take a break from journalism, her heart was broken as she believed her then editor wasn’t taking her hard work seriously. She felt she was risking her life without any appreciation.
I tried in vain to make her change her mind but she didn’t want to hear any of it. It was a matter of principle and integrity which were the core of her simple life.
Even when she was no longer a journalist, Solly would still help me to verify some of my information with her sources without any failure.
And when she had some stories still coming to her, she would pass them over or ask me who would be the right journalist for such a task. As they say, you can’t keep a good woman down.
Solly bounced back and reunited with me again – this time at Sunday Independent when she was appointed as the news editor last November.
We had lined up a number of investigations to do together, but unfortunately she succumbed to coronavirus complications on Tuesday, leaving me with a enormous task.
I was home in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, last week, where I had gone to bury my uncle, my father’s younger brother, who passed away at dawn on New Year’s Day. On my return from the village, I sent my station commissioner two messages about one of the investigations that we had been doing since December and little did I know that she was, at the time, in hospital fighting for her life.
When I received a phone from our editor, Zingisa Mkhuma, on Tuesday afternoon, I thought she wanted to ask me about my diary. Instead she was delivering the bad news about Solly’s passing. It came to me like a heavy blow and a shocker as I had just returned from another funeral, and my station commissioner was too young to die.
Rest In power, ntombi yakwaMaphumulo. You ran your race and delivered some of the best stories, that you will be remembered by for many years to come.