I didn’t know S’Busiso Mseleku was a lay preacher until I saw him conduct the memorial service of a colleague.
I couldn’t reconcile the dirty jokes with the man of the pulpit so, after the service, I asked him to explain the “disconnect” to me.
“KaMathanda,” he said, leaning close so nobody would hear him, “la engibuya khona bangazi ngingumfundisi [where I come from, they know me as a preacher].”
He said he always found himself conducting memorial services and funerals, even when he came as an ordinary mourner. And he saw things at funerals. All the drama and family feuds unfolded right before his eyes.
He once told a story of what happened in Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, many years ago.
A woman from there died in Durban after a “long illness”, back when even the mention of the word ‘Aids’ was taboo.
She was to be buried back home.
S’Bu went to the funeral, but the preacher didn’t pitch. Somebody pushed him to the front.
The story was told in isiZulu, his mother tongue.
Everything went well, he said, with mourner after mourner describing how lovely the woman was.
Colleagues and friends were stunned when the deceased’s father disrupted the proceedings and asked to speak.
The visibly annoyed old man grabbed the mic and said: “I don’t think you know me, but sitting here listening to all of you, I thought I was at the wrong funeral. Until I went to check the coffin to make sure that’s my daughter lying in it. And indeed isif*** esilele lapha ngumntanami [the b**ch lying there is my daughter].
“Yes, my daughter was isif***. She had the first of her four kids, who have four different fathers, when she was in high school. The youngest child is by Indiya [an Indian].”
And he wasn’t done.
“So I don’t know the person you all have come here to bury. Maybe it’s you who are at the wrong funeral.”
Everybody was still trying to catch their breath when the old man hit the final nail in the coffin.
“My daughter died of Aids. There, I said it!”
He dropped the mic and walked off the tiny stage.
S’Bu said he didn’t know what to do. He broke into song to break the ice. The old man quietly wobbled back to his seat.
People spoke in hushed tones. They couldn’t believe what they had just heard.
This was one of many stories that S’Bu Mseleku told in the five years we worked together at City Press.
I didn’t know him outside work, but I remember him mostly for his funny stories and jokes.
I found out in the first few days that he was very sensitive about how his name was written.
S’Bu or S’Busiso.
Not S’bu. Not S’busiso.
Not Sbu. Not Sibu.
Not Sbusiso. Not Sibusiso.
The B was capped.
I asked him why and he jokingly explained that there were too many Zulus named oSibusiso who became oSbusiso.
“KaMathanda, spell Kaya FM for me,” he said one day.
I got it right.
“Good,” he said. “Why didn’t you spell it Khaya FM?”
“Trademark”, I answered.
He wanted to be different so he spelt his name S’Busiso.
I knew S’Busiso Mseleku long before I eventually met him.
Long before I joined Drum, I used to read his articles. But when I joined the magazine, he had left for the Sowetan.
I didn’t meet him until I joined City Press in 2005. It was an honour to work with one of my Drum heroes.
Although his command of the English language was fantastic (that guy could write), S’Bu told me that his first stint at Drum was as a translator for the Zulu edition.
He returned as sports editor years later.
As a translator, he read stories written by the magazine’s finest. This helped him improve his own writing.
His isiZulu was impeccable, his command of the English language in the league of the generation of Drum writers that came before us.
I have worked with fantastic writers, guys whose copy went to print the way it came. S’Busiso Mseleku was one of them.
Rest in peace, KaMseleku.
Ncube is former news editor and executive editor of City Press, and is currently editor of The Star