In the many tributes paid to our departed colleague Dumisane Lubisi over the past week, few talk about his journalistic attributes. Most have been fittingly devoted to his relationship with his sons, his love for running, and his kindness and botho.
I am not surprised by this because, for many years now, Dumi has not been an active reporter breaking huge stories like he used to when he arrived at City Press, and did for the Sunday Times and for African Eye News Service in Mpumalanga before that.
He had become one of the many professionals in the media environment whose contributions behind the scenes are rarely appreciated because their names do not appear in the paper.
Like many subeditors and section editors in newsrooms around the world, he worked hard to ensure City Press produced an excellent publication with few comebacks from those we reported on.
He was our internal ombud who had the unenviable task of heading off any legal issues that may arise in an article. He also dealt with complaints of unfairness in coverage when they arose.
He was a kind person – always offering to help – but a harsher side of his personality would come out when he interrogated diaries and reporters.
Often, once a diary item had been read out at our news conference, he would interject: “I have read all of that in the Sowetan and on social media during the week. There is nothing new in our story.”
A hesitant news editor would then ask: “Do you think we should drop the story?” And, without any qualms, Dumi would reply: “Yes, let’s drop it.” This obviously did not endear him to everyone, and some thought he was brutal.
I can still hear him, his voice strained and his eyes lighting up as he looked at a story submitted to him, saying: “Yes, we got the forensic report exclusively, but what did we do with it? Did we call the people who commissioned the report, did we also talk to the people mentioned in the report? Did we do any journalism at all? We did f**k all, Rapule. I am not going to do a reporter’s job for them. I can’t read the report, show them where the story is and tell them who to speak to. It is their job.”
He was particularly interrogative of investigative pieces because they were his speciality. As a result, much space would open up in the newspaper on a Saturday morning as he crushed a story to smithereens. Crush sounds so harsh, but it is apt.
He was the “tough guy” in our leadership collective, and was not afraid to make unpopular decisions.
Of course, his opinions were considered, but the final decisions would only be made once the collective and the editor concurred.
It’s been said that every workplace needs one person who is not afraid to hurt egos. We will miss that quality sorely.
Outside of the news conferences, he was the sweetest guy. He was also quite industrious and paid attention to the smallest details.
He was one of the few people I know who would actually go through the newspaper inserts from supermarkets and liquor outlets to compare prices and find deals.
He also paid close attention to the cost of groceries and other basic necessities, which is indicative of a father living alone with three growing sons.
He often offered to take me to some tailor or another who made the “best and cheapest suits in town”. In fact, he made me feel insignificant when he spoke about suits because he said he had more than 50. I was stunned when he told me this, but maybe that’s because I’m someone who has never really been into suits.
As many have already testified, his life revolved around his sons, Wandile, Siya and Thando. Dumi’s days were always full of school runs, sporting activities and other admin associated with the children.
All three are gifted athletes and excel in swimming, running, cricket, rugby and more. The eldest, Thando, shows promise of cracking it into elite football should all go well.
He would stop over at my desk every day with news to share – and he was guaranteed a listening ear. When he was not talking about his sons, he talked on and on about running, despite my minimal interest in the subject.
Over the past year, his passionate conversations extended to his two homes – the renovations he was doing at his house in Johannesburg, and the house he was building from scratch in the village of his birth, Matsulu, outside Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. I
knew the smallest details about the house even before the foundation was poured. He told me about the bedrooms, the rooms for the boys and the lounge – the works.
He had a house plan that he would zoom into on his phone as he explained how he had changed his mind about the kitchen being next to the dining room or some other life-changing detail. And he would show you precisely where and how things would be done, even if the information flew right over your head.
We all have passions that keep us alive, dreaming and hopeful.
The boys, the houses, the running and, to a lesser extent, Kaizer Chiefs and Chelsea, were the things that made him look to the future. None of us expected him to pass on this young.
Plus, he was exceptionally fit, and had hardly ever taken off sick in the six years I worked with him.
As Christians, we are taught to take comfort in believing that God has His own plans as we try to make sense of tragedy.
As Batswana, we learn early on that loso ke ngwetsi ya malapa otlhe (death will pay a visit to all families), and are therefore enjoined to accept its inevitability. But sometimes these are just words ... and more words.
Rest in peace, Dumi.