Ngwako Modjadji: A true soldier is gone

Ngwako Modjadji’s death has robbed journalism of one of its finest sons. Picture: Refilwe Modise
Ngwako Modjadji’s death has robbed journalism of one of its finest sons. Picture: Refilwe Modise

"A life of service is a life well and greatly lived," these words, expressed by African content developer Omoakhuana Anthonia, best personify and describe the life of Ngwako Modjadji.

And as the Brazilian author, Paul Coelho, observed: “When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready.

"The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

Last Sunday we all had to accept the unpleasant news that the mortal being of Ngwako Modjadji was no more, representing the darkest moment for the fourth estate in South Africa.

His death has robbed journalism of one of its finest sons, a very humble and humane man.

This was my friend who always appeared neat and ordinary yet forthright. Ngwako came from the dusty streets of Bolobedu, in the north eastern part of the Mopani region in Limpopo.

He was raised and nurtured through the royalty of the Balobedu people under the rightful command of the Rain Queen. Ngwako was part of the clan of “rain makers”, with his last name “Modjadji” representing the permanent pride of his people.

Those of us who had the privilege of crossing paths with this great son of the soil can attest to the fact that his character was one of royalty and kingship; always reserved.

While on a final push electioneering trail in eThekwini with ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma, I came across Ngwako who had kept his hand up among a throng of other press men.

His request was not so complicated – he wanted to have an opportunity to pose a few questions about the party’s election campaign to Zuma. We agreed to create space at our next stop.

However, the former president was running behind for another engagement in Pietermaritzburg and Ngwako’s request could not be accommodated. Instead of moaning, Ngwako followed the entourage to Pietermaritzburg for that one-on-one with JZ.

He was not one to give up easily when executing his duties. By the time the last engagement was done in the early evening of Friday, I asked the former president to afford Ngwako an audience, to which he agreed.

Little did I know that this was to be Ngwako’s first and last one-on-one interview with Zuma.

After the interview, I travelled with Ngwako back to Durban where we had our last “dinner” while reminiscing about our own memories.

I have known Ngwako for more than two decades, having met him when we both enrolled as journalism students at the erstwhile Technikon Northern Gauteng (now the Tshwane University of Technology) in Soshanguve.

We discovered that during our school days we both freelanced at community newspapers, Letaba Herald and Namakani News, respectively.

Ngwako demonstrated a high level of intimacy towards the profession and paid great attention to detail. He was not flamboyant and maintained a very ordinary demeanour. He spoke only when so required and hardly raised his voice.

We are all poorer without his contribution. Political formations have lost one of the most important mirrors through which they used to see themselves as they carried out the task of leading people.

One of the critical tasks for journalists today is to chronicle the story of the transformation of our society as it unfolds.

Ngwako and some of his colleagues distinguished themselves by their ability to tell our nation this evolving story with remarkable commitment, enthusiasm and absolute accuracy.

Our press men and women must always hoist the flag of press freedom higher and present news reportage without fear or favour in honour of some of our modern-day advocates of press freedom, such as Ngwako, who begged no special relationships in executing his duties.

Ngwako understood that the best defence of media freedom is to report news accurately, fairly and objectively.

To best describe his courage and conviction towards the craft is to acknowledge that he was a selfless journalist with a strong eye for news. He knew that finding a newsworthy story required patience.

He loved his job and applied great effort to every assignment he undertook. He carried out his duties with absolute integrity and utmost professionalism. He gave journalism the respect and dignity it deserves.

The Ngwako I befriended came from a breed of young media practitioners who despised commercially inspired sensationalism. Even with his visibly growing dominance in the pages of City Press, Ngwako still subscribed to responsible journalism.

It is therefore not a coincidence that, even as he met his untimely death, his byline featured on the front page of City Press.

Ngwako finished his race on a high note and at a time when print media is bleeding.

Even at this point, as we reluctantly accept the reality of having to take his mortal remains to his final resting place, the question to ask on his behalf and that of many other fallen media patriots like him is: “What is to be done with the deteriorating quality of journalism and the massive decline of circulation figures for many print titles?”

As we ponder this and many other questions, we can take solace in the knowledge that protest media, as previously advanced by press luminaries of yesteryear, such as Percy Qoboza, Nat Nakasa and Aggrey Klaaste, gave all of us not only press freedom but the liberty we all enjoy, exemplified by our right to vote for a government of our choice regardless of our skin colour.

Ngwako will be remembered as a patriot who died in the line of duty. Like a true soldier, he died with his boots on and after the completion of another critical assignment. For him journalism was a calling and not an ordinary career.

His death has denied the new generation of journalists an opportunity to learn from his vast experience. He leaves behind a legacy of excellence in journalism.

Mabe is national spokesperson of the ANC and a friend of Modjadji


We learned with great shock and sadness of the untimely and tragic passing of Ngwako Modjadji.

The passing of such a young, talented, committed and professional journalist is a huge loss to the country.
He carried himself with dignity and humility regardless of the story that he was pursuing or the subject of the story. 

I spoke to him on Friday 3 May 2019 on the campaign trail in KZN and neither of us knew it was the last time. 

He still had so much to offer our young democracy.

Rest in Peace Ngwako Modjadji, uyibekile induku ebandla!

Condolences and strength to the family during this difficult time.

Yours sincerely,


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24


Read the digital editions of City Press here.
Read now
Voting Booth
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that SA’s vaccine passport plans are coming on. What are your thoughts?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
We cannot be forced
31% - 92 votes
It’s critical
24% - 70 votes
Vaccines save lives
45% - 133 votes