Johannesburg - Akhumzi Jezile’s mother has opened up about her grief and plans to help others who’ve lost loved ones
There’s a welcoming smile on her face as she invites DRUM into her home, but the sadness in her eyes is unmistakable. She feels dead inside, Zoleka Jezile admits. "It’s like I’m the one who’s no longer living."
Zoleka (55) is speaking publicly for the first time since her son, popular TV presenter and producer Akhumzi Jezile, died in a car crash last April.
Life without her son "isn’t easy", she says, although she admits the apartment where we meet in Ruimsig, Roodepoort, has brought her some solace. This was her son’s home and she moved in a few weeks ago, just before the first anniversary of his passing. "I came here for healing," Zoleka says.
Yet, she hasn’t changed or moved anything in the flat and she rarely ventures upstairs to Akhumzi’s bedroom where all his clothes remain.
"I have a lot going on in my head but as I sit here, I have found peace."
Zoleka and her boy were more than mother and son. "He was also my friend, my everything," she says, and her heartbreak is overwhelming. She went on holiday to Thailand in December hoping the exotic location would bring some respite to her pain, but she couldn’t get her child out of her head.
"I kept thinking he would’ve been calling me and asking, ‘How is it?’ I thought about how all his friends were going to Durban and all these places while my son was sleeping at West Park Cemetery."
'THAT IS WHERE I PUT MY TEARS'
She often visits Akhumzi’s grave and will spend hours talking to him and crying. "That is where I put my tears. I don’t normally cry but when I do, I can’t stop." On what would’ve been Akhumzi’s 30th birthday on 15 January she woke early and arrived at the cemetery at 07:00, an hour before the official opening time.
A kind security guard allowed her to come in and Zoleka spent most of the day tidying her son’s grave and wishing him a happy birthday. She performed the same ritual a few months earlier, on her birthday on the 23rd of October. "I did it because I knew I wouldn’t hear his voice."
Akhumzi’s face is permanently etched in his mother’s memory – and now her skin too after she had an image of his face and his dates of birth and death tattooed on her right calf. "It was painful but it’s nothing compared to the pain in my heart."
'THERE ARE MANY THINGS I HAVEN'T DISCUSSED'
Zoleka is still unable to talk about that fateful Saturday morning when she got the call that her son had been killed. "I still don’t enjoy talking about his passing, but I know one day I will be comfortable discussing it," she says. "There are so many things I haven’t discussed since his passing."
Akhumzi’s uncle, Fologi, shared the final moments of his nephew’s life at his funeral last year.
The TV personality had been driving with friends to the Eastern Cape for a family event when a truck crashed into their car. He and his companions, including Joyous Celebration singer Siyasanga Kobese and actor Thobani Mseleni, were all killed instantly.
Zoleka has tried to be strong for her other kids, daughters Noziphiwo (36) and Siyanda (34) and son Gcina (23). "When I’m okay, they’re okay but when I’m not okay, they’re not okay."
Zoleka has inherited more children since losing her son, as his longtime friends have become a permanent part of her life.
Andile Ncube (38), Musa Mthombeni (29) and Alex Hlabangene (37) regularly check in on her and do what they can to keep her spirits up.
She credits Andile with teaching Akhumzi "that he must be able to do things on his own and not depend on anyone". The two launched a business together, Blackface Entertainment, which they co-owned with Alex. "I’m now their mother and they try to treat me the way Akhumzi did."
On Mother’s Day last year, a host of Akhumzi’s friends, including actresses Terry Pheto, Mampho Brescia and radio and TV personality Zizo Tshwete, spent the day celebrating her and their own mothers. It was a lovely gesture, she says, but inside she hurt too much to enjoy the day. "I saw people and I laughed but I don’t remember much about it. I was still hurting. It was like I was a cabbage inside. I wasn’t a person."
'HE WAS HUMBLE'
Akhumzi was never a celebrity in his mother’s eyes, nor did he see himself as one "even when people stopped him in the street", his mom says. "He was always humble." Her pride is evident when she reminisces about how Akhumzi broke into the entertainment industry at age 17. She was working at a salon she owned in Randburg when a friend called her and said, "Akhumzi and his school friends are on TV!"
"I was so mad," says Zoleka, who admits she thought her son was telling a lie when he said he was going to be on TV with DJ Sbu.
"But then I got a call from a lady from Urban Brew [Studios] asking me how I felt about him getting a job and I knew he was telling the truth," she recalls. Akhumzi went on to present Wild Room then The Big Breakfast and the variety show Fan Base.
He also acted in Khululeka Siyavota and Tempy Pushas, and worked as a presenter for Umhlobo Wenene. "He excelled at everything he did," Zoleka says. His passing has tested her faith, she adds. "I know God is there, but I was angry at Him. I’m still not ready to go to church because I have so many questions. Why didn’t God let my son grow to be an old man? Why didn’t He give him a chance to achieve everything he wanted to?"
Zoleka intends channelling her pain into the launch of the Akhumzi Jezile Foundation, with Akhumzi’s friend Alex. While a lot of initiatives are planned for the foundation, its main focus will be road safety awareness. "We wanted to focus on the human side of road accidents and the effect it has on the people who are left behind," Alex tells us.
The foundation’s longterm aim is to build a rehabilitation centre to help grieving relatives who’ve lost loved ones.
"Ma [Zoleka] is lucky she has people to help her through this pain but what happens to mothers who’ve lost breadwinners, or their only child?"
The desire to give back and help others comes from the kind of life Akhumzi lived, Alex says. "I want people to learn to give back and give of themselves like he did," he says. "I want the foundation to help us continue his legacy of giving back to the community. He gave back willingly and never advertised it and that’s how we should be."
AS IT HAPPENED: Akhumzi Jezile memorial service