THERE is a noticeable spring in the step of Dr Richard Gugushe as he welcomes us to his Dube home in Soweto.
For a man who celebrated his 100th birthday last week (October 8), Gugushe takes his strides with the buoyancy of a teenager. Though his posture is slightly bent forwards, he would not dare use a walking aid, which he detests with a passion. And from what I can see, he does not need a walking aid, and will not need one any day soon.
The centenarian is surprised at himself for reaching such a ripe old age. It never dawned on him that he would outlive most of his peers to reach what he calls “the cul de sac of life”.
Gugushe still drives himself in his neat light green Mercedes Benz E230, which he has owned for the past 30 years. He recently had his driver’s licence renewed, but not before the clerk who was attending to him politely asked him not to come back again when it expires in 2014 – a reality he has begrudgingly come to accept.
There is no English equivalent to the isiZulu saying that kugug’othandayo. One thing certain though is that old age has not slowed Gugushe down. When he is not doing his garden, he washes his car himself. He dislikes a dirty car just as he is nauseated by the sight of greasy and grimy plates in a sink. From time to time he does the dishes because he is the last to have supper.
The Matatiele-born Gugushe could not have become anything other than a teacher. His teacher father had such a profound impact on him that from a young age he wanted to emulate him. At the time there was a course called Penmanship and his father had beautiful handwriting, something Gugushe had failed to master.
But it was in the backward areas of Qasha’s Nek in Lesotho that Gugushe was really bred. This is where he did his primary schooling until Standard 3 (Grade 5) under the strict tutelage of his father. He did not like the strict attention, but on hindsight realised that it greatly helped him in his studies.
Gugushe went on to enroll at the famous Ohlange school in KwaZulu-Natal headed by John Langalibalele Dube, the ANC’s founding president. After getting his matric he headed for Fort Hare University to study for a teacher’s diploma but soon dropped out because of a lack of finances.
Back in Lesotho he got a job as a temporary unqualified teacher, where he was paid a meagre £7 on a quarterly basis.
It was at this time that his former headmaster Dube heard about his plight and summoned him to Ohlange where he offered him a job as a boarding master and teacher. For the five years he was there he was able to study privately and passed eight degree courses before going back to Fort Hare to complete his studies.
Studying almost day and night had its toll on Gugushe’s health. His ambition of completing two diplomas simultaneously – a teacher’s diploma and a University Education diploma – saw him sit 12 three-hour exam papers in one week. By the time he started his first job at the Bantu High in Bloemfontein, he was exhausted. He feared he had contracted the rampant TB virus but his fears were allayed by Dr JS Moroka, another ANC president.
It is not an idle boast when Gugushe says he was on first-name terms with three ANC presidents.
His first neighbour in Dube in 1956 was Dr AB Xuma who was ANC president from 1940 to 1949. The house was subsequently sold to the late medico, businessman and activist Dr Nthato Motlana.
In his teaching career, Gugushe has taught in schools in Bela Bela and at the famed Orlando High, where he specialised in Sesotho and mathematics before he eventually became an inspector of schools.
He was also secretary of the Council for Education and Training, a position he occupied for 10 years. He retired in the early 1980s but soon thereafter was recalled to head the Vista University campus in Soweto until he retired in 1985 at the age of 73.
As a veteran educationist, it pains Gugushe to see the deteriorating state of our education. Without mincing his words he blames the malaise on the unionisation of teachers, which he says is a stumbing block towards achieving effective learning and teaching in our schools.
In his view there must be, as in the past, constant monitoring of progress in respect of teaching and learning by dedicated personnel.
He is also shocked by the laxity that has come to characterise our teachers and pupils towards their work and studies respectively.
“Criticising Angie Motshekga won’t help.
“Nobody will ever succeed to get our education to what it should be unless we go back to basics,” he said.
As an ANC follower, Gugushe said though he believed in an “educated leadership” he thinks the encumbent president Jacob Zuma has done his best despite his limited education. But he thinks its time for Zuma to hand over the baton to someone else. And should he still be alive, he hopes to cast his “last” vote for the ANC in the next general election in 2014.
Gugushe continues to be an avid reader, sometimes tackling three books at a time. He’s been reading Frank Chikane’s book Eight Days in September and he can’t wait to get his hands on a copy of Deputy President Kgalema Motlhante’s political biography written by Ebrahim Harvey. Though he keeps his Bible nearby, lately he’s been engrossed in a book of sermons by Oscar Chambers.
Married for 70 years, his advice to young couples is that they must work as a team. “Do things together. Play together. Go out together. Marriage is a sacred partnership and it has been proven that couples in a close partnership are always successful,” he said.
Any regrets? Only that he did not get to compile his speeches into a book.
On the subject of death, Gugushe said as a practising Christian and a lay minister he has accepted that death is the destiny of everybody and he has accepted that he will have to leave this world one day. His last wish is to have his protégé Leepile Taunyane be the only speaker at his funeral. “He knows me very well and the others will be merely repeating themselves.”
Gugushe has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. One of his children is Dr Tshepo Gugushe who recently retired as a professor at Medunsa.
“God gave me a long life but very few children,” he said with a chuckle.