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Happy childhood breeds success

Submitted by on Wednesday, 15 October 2008No Comment

Thaba Mufamadi is executive chairman of Lehotsa Holdings and a member of the African National Congress national executive. He tells DAVID GEMMELL how he stays fit for his various roles.

Where did you grow up?

I am a child of the North, Limpopo Province; fortunate to have had both a rural and urban background. I was born at my mother’s place of origin in a village called Botlokwa (Matoks) and later, in the early 60′s, the family moved to Saulsville/Atteridgeville in Pretoria.

Did you have a happy childhood?

I think so. I grew up in a very big family with my uncle in Matoks, a very strict but generous man.

He was the only son in his family and traditionally, when your sisters get married and you are the only son, all the inheritance is yours and so is the responsibility of keeping the family together. By virtue of this, he inherited almost everything from my grandfather including the lobola cattle paid for his sisters. As a way of ensuring that the family bond remains intact, and also because of his generosity, he went to each and every one of his sisters’ houses and sort of adopted a boy from each house, so he could bring us up together with his children as one family. Of my mother’s children, he picked on me! I suspect his choice was also influenced by the fact that he gave the name ‘Thabadiawa’ at birth. So I grew up in a ‘soccer team’ family (…laughs). I think it was a very good thing in that he managed to cement the relationship of people who would normally be called distant cousins. Now, there is no difference between my biological brothers, sisters and my cousins. I did my higher primary schooling there, and thereafter joined my parents in Saulsville/Atteridgeville.

What did your parents do?

My dad was a labourer at South African Railways, now Spoornet; my mother a housewife. Not by choice. Her only other option was to be a domestic servant instead she chose to do other things like selling homemade beer over weekends. Her business was such a success that sometimes she would have to extend her trading days beyond the weekend! When this happened, she would still get insistent customers on Mondays – people from all walks of life, who happened to be migrant labourers in Southern Africa. Some originated as far away as Malawi, Bulawayo, Mozambique! These people somehow became a part of my upbringing too, as they were treated as our extended family. And you know what, it was fun! This for me was time well spent in a real working class family and I believe that that is what has shaped my character.

You must be disappointed by the recent bouts of Xenophobia?

What saddens me is that even under Apartheid, which tried very hard to separate us, in the township where you would have a Zulu section; a Shangaan section etc, we refused to be separated as Africans, the system just couldn’t separate us! We worked together and partied together; we cried together at funerals. I remember there was a Mozambican family three houses from our house; they had a little shop around the corner from us.  We grew up together with their children and we did not even regard that as an issue – not at all.  However one must not take a simplistic view of these recent developments.  This is an involved matter which requires time as a separate topic on its own for discussions, because certainly, everyone has adopted their own view.

One of the things we as the ANC was to make sure we went to the ground to understand exactly what was happening as well as explain our position to our people directly, not just through pamphlets or electronic media. For the moment it is a relief, which I am pleased about, that our communities are dealing with the matter. It shows that our communities can never be taken for granted and be used to propagate the wrong agenda.

It is obviously a complex issue. Back to health, have you had any serious health scares?

No. I think I am one of the fortunate few – I have never spent a night in hospital. At least, not as far as I can remember, and I hope I’m not inviting it… (laughs).

How carefully do you watch your diet?

About three or four years ago I was very careful. I was just ballooning and I had to do something about my weight. After being on diet I moved from 120kg to less than 100kg. My target was 85kg but I only got to 90kg. However I’ve put on weight again, so I am back on the protein diet. I really now check what I put into my mouth…again (laughs). It’s difficult for the first three days to detox your body, to get it right, stop eating this and that, but you get used to it. I am now feeling very energetic and I look forward to each day and its challenges positively. Of cause I have started getting some comment like, “hey you are fading away man, what’s the problem?” And I just laugh because it makes me feel good!

What would your death row meal be?

You know I like Mogudu (tripe) with pap, which I’m not supposed to eat at the moment (laughs). I especially like the tripe of Blou Wildebeest. Generally, I like venison, but not the meat per se, just the tripe. But the extreme to my rural meal would be oysters something I’m certain my late mother would not dare venture in, let alone my late uncle!  I am a sophisticated rural boy who loves tripe and oysters…(laughs).  I did tell you of my privileged of having both a rural and urban background…(laughs again).

What sport or exercise do you do?

I am very ill-disciplined in that regard. I really do try walk in the morning.  I often embark on a running routine at the beginning of every summer, as ‘going back to gym’ is everyone’s New Year resolutions, I say the same every year but it never lasts long enough to form part of my lifestyle. One of the reasons is mostly that I don’t have a regular and manageable schedule of work. I attribute this to many things. When I was in government you never knew where you were going to sleep next, what time you were going to sleep and when you were going to wake up. I left government and I came into the private sector – at the beginning it’s not easy, especially when you start your own operation (start up companies). You learn very quickly that you are no longer a ‘time-giver’ but a ‘time-taker’.  If someone can slot you in his or her diary at whatever time they’re available, you simply have to squeeze your program to achieve your goal. The world of business can be very uncompromising! You can put those who believe politics is dirty business at ease by reassuring them that equally, business is real dirty politics. No one wants to know or is interested in where you are travelling from; organise yourself or perish – that’s the game!

You’ve always been involved politically and still are as a member of the NEC; tell me about that.

Political life has always been my life. It’s not a career. Some people believe it is a choice I contest that view because I know it is not but more of a calling. That is why even if I could make a lot of money in the private sector as an individual, I will never feel fulfilled unless I can be part of the solution to our societal ills. I guess it is more about conscience of the environment around you and knowledge of the circumstances in which the majority of our people still live in. It is this reality and awareness that confront me everyday of my life, defining who I am as a politician. The willingness or the urge transcends beyond my needs & discomforts; it is really directed towards improving the circumstances of others. We grew up in that political environment, that atmosphere – I’d be living a lie if I tried to detach myself from that.

Being in government must have made you a largely ‘absent’ father, how did your family feel about you leaving government?

You are right – my kids grew up without me.

How many do you have?

Three – a 24 year old daughter; a 19 year old son and the baby of the pack, another daughter aged 16. When I told my kids I was leaving government my youngest daughter asked me, “Papa, does that mean you are going to stop watching the news?” (Laughs…). To them my life in the house was that of a provider, and also a person who just watched the news.  Mostly when my car drove in the driveway, there was always another car coming in with me. It wasn’t security, it was people coming to have a meeting with me; and if there weren’t people coming in with me, I would be on my mobile all the time. I’m not surprised by their lack of interest in politics; they would not choose it as a career, as they see it as something that just takes you away from your family. We fail them on that front because we hardly have time to share our experiences and the importance of our work to society.  I am very proud of my kids, particularly their understanding and willingness to share their father with the rest of society.

If you could choose to be stranded in one place in the world where would you choose?

I can’t think of anywhere better than where I am, home. I have travelled enough. You know when you fill out these travel forms and they ask which countries have you been to? Well those forms should say, ‘or not been to’ (…laughs). We have everything here – we don’t need anything more. Home is best.

Who in the whole of history would you most like to sit next to on a long flight?

I would have loved to sit next to Chris Hani on a long flight.

Tell me something about you that no-one else knows?

I hate mice. I don’t like those things. And the kids know – if they want to scare me out of the house, they know, just get a mouse.

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