To the man who bled words

A writer died this week. He was a poet. A jazz fiend. A word junkie. A lover of wine and good food and long talks.

He was a journalist, too. 

But Tiisetso Makube was a rare breed of journalist, the sort who write from the soul. He was on a quest for truth. He bled out his words, and he paid dearly for each one. 

He was my friend, and I was his editor. 

I loved him through the words he would deliver in a voice so distinctly his own; I fell for him the first time I read him. Often Tiisetso would ask questions in his pieces. He asked himself. He asked the reader. He asked the universe. He wanted an answer but so often he had none, not one, at least, that would be the least bit satisfactory. So he would ask. What time is it? he wrote, more than once, quoting a poet whose name he never told me. 


So beautifully he would put the mundane, so passionately he would tell the story of his country through his subjects. Tiisetso wasn’t always an easy edit. And I wasn’t always an easy editor. We would go back and forth in our dance. He put up with me and my nit-pickity ways. I pried and pushed because I knew there was more I could take from his fingers on that keyboard. In the end, he would always give it up, give it everything. And when it was done, when it was all on the page, I would only ask for another. 

One day, a couple of years ago, he sent me an email out of the blue. It was this: an excerpt Anton Chekhov’s Terror. “I am afraid of everything. I am not by nature a profound thinker, and I take little interest in such questions as the life beyond the grave, the destiny of humanity, and, in fact, I am rarely carried away to the heights. 

“What chiefly frightens me is the common routine of life from which none of us can escape. I am incapable of distinguishing what is true and what is false in my actions, and they worry me. I recognise that education and the conditions of life have imprisoned me in a narrow circle of falsity, that my whole life is nothing else than a daily effort to deceive myself and other people, and to avoid noticing it; and I am frightened at the thought that to the day of my death I shall not escape from this falsity. 

“I don’t understand men, my dear fellow, and I am afraid of them. It frightens me to look at the peasants, and I don’t know for what higher objects they are suffering and what they are living for. 

“If life is an enjoyment, then they are unnecessary, superfluous people; if the object and meaning of life is to be found in poverty and unending, hopeless ignorance, I can’t understand for whom and what this torture is necessary. I understand no one and nothing.” 

I heard today that Tiisetso was gone, found dead on Wednesday in his home in Tsakane on the East Rand. I understand he likely died of a seizure. Tiisetso lived alone. He was just 35. I lost a friend. His daughter, Natalie, named after Nat Nakasa, lost her father. Many, many, many people lost a friend. And South Africa this week lost one of their own. 

This week we lost a true writer.   

Here are some of my favourite pieces by Tiisetso, which appeared in the Mail & Guardian:

Snapshots of a life that was 

Nat Nakasa: Writing to the beat of a different drum 

Fish tales and faded hope on the famished road to Mangaung 

Buckets, pits and poverty: how the other half defecates 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Tanya Pampalone
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…