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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

APPRECIATION| Phindile Xaba, who died after a lengthy battle with cancer on Saturday, was a stalwart of South African journalism 

VICKY ABRAHAM pays tribute to her mentor and editor of INSIDE EDUCATION’s quarterly print publication, Phindile Xaba, who died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

Xaba’s long and illustrious career included being the editor of Real Magazine, under Media24 stable, which created the platform for healing of women. She was also the founding editor of the Sowetan women’s club. She also worked for the Mail and Guardian, as the editor of The Teacher. She also worked for The New Age, True Love, City Press, St. Pietersburg Times (USA), The Journalist and many others. Xaba also worked as a communications consultant in the Office of the Deputy Minister in the Department of Public Service and Administration, Dr Chana Pilane-Majake.


On February 15, at 9:20am, my day was brightened by a WhatsApp text message from my former editor and mentor at the Sowetan newspaper, Ausi Phindile Xaba.

The message read as follows: “Good morning Vicky. It’s Phindile Xaba here. Long time, hey! I wonder if Matuma [Letsoalo- Inside Education Managing Director] spoke to you about a print version of Inside Education. I am reaching out to invite you to join the A-Team.  I would like that very much. Let’s talk later. Regards. PX”.

In response to her message, I said: “Dear Phindile, how are you, my mentor? I’m so excited to hear from you. Please let me know what time would be appropriate for us to talk. Regards, Vicky”. She responded by saying: “Now is a good time Vicky if you are available. Regards”.

The purpose of our reconnection through WhatsApp was to discuss diary for the launch edition of Inside Education Quarterly Print Publication, which would be distributed to all schools across the country, the universities and TVET colleges.

Ausi Phindi’s message came through after 20 years of having lost communication with her.

But, I must profess that it did not dawn on me that our work journey would be ephemeral. It did not occur to me that the three stories she assigned me to do for the launch edition of Inside Education Print Publication: “How Diepsloot underprivileged School Made It to the Top”, “World’s Most Dedicated Teacher”, “SA Student Makes It To Oxford”, would be the last that we would work on together. Honestly, it did not occur to me that she will be counted among the departed souls. 

I first met Ausi Phindile during my internship program at the Sowetan in 2000, which shortly turned to a contractual employment. At the time, she was heading the Sowetan’s Women’s section. Journalists who contributed for that section were often seasoned journalists. Even though I was fresh from varsity and did not have newsroom experience, she accepted my pitch about writing a feature on premenstrual syndrome. She later then granted me an opportunity to write for the Women’s section.  During the process she took me by hand and guided me on how to put together my ideas. 

Although there are numerous features that I contributed for her Women’s section, she also preferred utilising my modelling skills for the section at no cost. She would call me in for modelling photoshoots which she later used. But often, it was her guiding me on how to write compelling feature articles. 

I reminded her about these special and funny moments during our virtual diary meeting on that day, February 15.  I reminded her about the life changing role she played in my life during my tenure at the Sowetan and the love I have for her as my mentor. She however warned me, in a shy manner, that she is no longer as sweet as she was at the Sowetan. She was upfront that unlike in the past, at some stages she will not be so kind toward me. My response to her was sweet and short. 

I told her that I only know the positive about her and in the case that she loses her temper on me during our ongoing work discussions, I will constantly keep in mind her positive side that I know. Instead of losing her temper on me, on March 16, she took me to task for calling her “Phindile” instead of “Ausi Phindile”. I recall picking up her call and the first thing she said: “Vicky, kana when did I become Phindile to you and not Ausi Phindile”. Without going into too
much details, she was basically reminding me that although we have a working relationship, I should still remember that it is unacceptable in our African culture to call her Phindile instead of Ausi Phindile.

 From then, I made sure that I continuously referred to her as Ausi Phindile in our written and verbal communication. Few days later, during our work discussions, she wore her sisterly cap and counselled me on how to handle business related matters. She warned me not to sell myself short in the media industry.

She shared with me how she handles business-related matters and advised me to walk in her footsteps. 

But, I must say on March 19, she was not so kind toward me. She related her concerns that I had written features that were beyond 1200 words. She was also not happy that my sidebars were, according to her, “very long”. On the other hand, I was not happy with her about certain things that I had previously related to her.  After our discussion on March 19, I spent a day without communicating with her, simply because I was not happy. 

However, the anger was for a brief moment. A day without speaking to her felt like the 20 years that we spent without communicating. I missed her dearly, hence on Mach 21 at around 15:56, I sent her the following message, “Dear Sis Phindile, I am just checking on you today.

Hope all is well. Have a blessed day. I still love you akere. Regards”. She responded with emojis of hugs and smiles. 
My relationship with Ausi Phindile was not just a mere work relationship. She played a role of a leader, mentor and a sister to me. She knew when to wear the leader, mentor or sister’s cap when she addressed me. In all the caps she wore or roles she played during our interactions, she made sure that she made a positive impact in my life. 
I am deeply saddened that the three education features that I wrote for the launch edition of
Inside Education Quarterly Print Publication, were the last ones she would edit. 

Without knowing that she was fighting for her life, my family and I had taken it upon ourselves to include her in our daily prayers. I honestly did not know that the prayer that we prayed for her on May 7, just before her departure was the last one.  I already miss Ausi Phindile’s presence, her beautiful laughter and guidance.

Although, we had already made plans for the next Inside Education Print edition which will publish in June,
I am saddened she will not be behind the desk editing my work. But, I am very grateful to God
for the times I spent with her and the lessons that I learned from her. I pray for her family to
be strengthened. May heaven welcome her with open arms.


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