Obituary – ‘White Hyena’ was a master storyteller

2011-09-17 16:38

‘Your good-natured and mostly cheerful (except in winter) columnist is bailing out of these woods from next week,” were Deon du Plessis’ last words before he went on sabbatical.

But on Sunday, he went on a permanent sabbatical to the other world where pioneers like him gather.

I have read this sentence over and over, and something in me asks if these were his farewell words before a well-deserved sabbatical, or whether they were meant to tell us that he knew he was rising to the stars where he would be able to train his celestial gaze upon us forever.

How does one begin to deal with such a loss?

I have been with Deon for nine years. He beguiled me with stories of war, guns and fast cars. Yes, he loved telling war stories. In fact, he recreated them and took you to the battlefield. He loved fast cars and roaring V8 engines.

He perpetually reminded me of the need for rigour and order. “Without these, old boy, life would be a big f***-up,” he used to say.

The first time I had an audience with “The White Hyena” was in the autumn of 2002 when I went for a job interview. He regarded me with cold eyes and fired a barrage of questions at me. This was on the stoep of his Houghton home. We connected on that day. I walked out knowing that I was in and was going to have fun.

And indeed we had fun. We had fantastic Sunday lunches of skop and brown bread. Some colleagues sneered and this made us buy more. This “skopocatessen” earned us popularity when we appeared on a BBC documentary wielding the jaws of a sheep’s head whose flesh was deeply buried in our guts.

A time came when we stopped stuffing our bodies with this cholesterol bomb and settled for healthier food, which saw he and I lose quite a few kilograms.

Deon had a deep love for newspapering. His whole being was drenched in it. Every pore of his body oozed ink and he detested people who took newspapers for granted.

“There are idiots who have no love and understanding of newspapers trying to tell us what to do. Do not listen to them, old boy, they are slime. Stamp on the slime that creeps in under the door and you would have saved a good newspaper.”

These are words that gained meaning for me as we steered this “pirate ship” called the Daily Sun towards the treasure island.

As I stated earlier in the week, we will continue our journey to the sunlit uplands, fired up by the memory of a man who hated mediocrity with every fibre of his being.

Deon reminded me every day that “our duty is to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat”. If death stands somewhere rubbing its hands with glee thinking it has scored a victory, it better think again because in the rhythm of our work, in our exuberant dance for success, Deon moves with us.

I say it again. We are determined, more than ever, to continue with vigour on this great journey started by Deon in 2002 and to do things to the best of our ability to commemorate his memory.

» Khumalo is editor in chief of Daily Sun and Sunday Sun

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