An ubuntu moment – Mbulelo Kafi and ‘Atomic Tina’

Once upon a time and place, in this project for a model of rural communications … Maeder Osler  recalls a memorable incident involving a serious young teenager, Mbulelo Kafi, then a learner at Umso Senior Secondary School in Kuyasa, Colesberg, and the late Tina Joemat-Pettersson, then MEC for education in the Northern Cape. Today, Mbulelo runs his own travel and tour business, Sakhisizwe Travel & Tours, and is a popular inspirational speaker at all sorts of events, both local and beyond.


AT THAT TIME, I was — to use today’s politically acceptable terminology – an educator, and eventually became the principal of Umso Senior Secondary, where Mbulelo was a learner (perhaps a story for another day). I was trying to facilitate a geography textbook lesson about the insides and underneaths of Planet Earth, in English, to isiXhosa-speakers. (Since then, this has become even more mysterious  — scientists now say they’ve discovered another core at the centre of the earth, which they call the ‘innermost inner core’, and plays a key role in the Earth’s magnetic field. To read about it, click here.)

Then, a sort of ubuntu moment followed. There was a knock on the door, and when it opened, it revealed the solid figure of Miriam Kibi, chair of the School Governing Board. With her was the then MEC for Education in the Northern Cape, Tina Joemat.

For quite some time, Tina had been a tower of strength and inspiration for my wife, Les Osler, in her role as co-founder of the Hantam Community Education Trust. Les has retired, but 34 years later the HCET is still going from strength to strength.

Mbulelo Kafi in the campsite at Melton Wold outside Victoria West during the Karoo Highway summit, with Maeder Osler and his trusty ‘hoenderhaan’ (Mahindra Thar) in the background.

Tina Joemat – later Joemat-Pettersson – was herself a child of the Northern Cape. Born in Kimberley, she went on to obtain degrees from UCT and UWC, and became an educator herself. She was elected to the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature in 1994, and became an MEC. In 2009 she was elected to the national parliament and first became minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and then minister of energy. Controversy arose about her conduct in both portfolios.

She was dismissed in 2017, and resigned from the National Assembly. However, she returned to the National Assembly in 2019, and became chair of the Portfolio Committee on Police. She was also prominent in the ANC Women’s League.

Distressingly, in June this year, she passed away in Cape Town at age 59, amid renewed controversy and in circumstances that remain unclear. It was sad, at that time, to see images of her sons wearing expensive watches, and read stories about expensive cars. This seemed to tell its own tale of what had become of this once principled and idealistic member of the SACP.

But this story is about how Mbulelo, alone among a lively geography class of young teenagers, who had collectively jumped to their feet to welcome the unexpected guests, knew just who was who.

By then, I had learnt that questions can sometimes be more important than answers. So in the course of welcoming the visitors, I asked the class whether they knew who they were. I was prepared for a sustained silence. But then Mbulelo stood up and announced: ‘This is Tina Joemat, MEC for Education, with Mrs Kibi of the ANC’.

Mbulelo still remembers this today. As a fellow founder of our independent media group in Colesberg, I am following his Facebook site more regularly.

A picture on the SATOVITO website.

Recently, Kafi drew attention to a fascinating organisation, called the South African Township and Village Tourism Association (SATOVITO), which – as its name suggests – is working to develop township tourism, and stitch it into the mainstream tourism industry. To read more about SATOVITO, click here.

This also reminds me of a riveting encounter I once had with ‘Atomic Tina’ about the possible beneficiaries of the tourism and travel subject I was then supposed to teach. I was thinking about precisely what SATOVITO seems to be advocating now – a sort of coming to earth. But that’s a story for another time.

In the meantime, all praise to a venture that seems to offer real hope and opportunities to real people in South Africa’s real townships.


Featured image: Tina Joemat-Pettersson, then Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, during the African Agriculture session at the World Economic Forum on Africa, Cape Town, 4-6 May 2011. World Economic Forum / Eric Miller

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