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Mgoqi was a champion of the people and an eternal optimist

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Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA) – Dr Wallace Mgoqi

By Dr Iqbal Survé

This past week has been a blur of emotion as I struggle to come to terms with the fact that a man who has played such a huge and important role in my life and who has been a source of inspiration, wisdom, and guidance to me for the past three decades, is no more.

Advocate Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi, Chairperson of the Board of Ayo Technology Solutions (AYO), was a giant among men. Tall and imposing in stature certainly, but like President Nelson Mandela, an undeniable presence.

To be in his company, there was an immediate apparency that his charisma was backed by a sharp mind and a caring heart, qualities that ultimately stood the test of time.

Wallace Mgoqi suddenly passed away on Monday night. Such a bald statement cannot begin to describe the depth of shock, sadness, or desolation this loss has for his family, the company that he chaired for nearly the past six years, the country, nor to me, on a far deeper personal level.

Wallace was my friend. More than that, he was a mentor, a voice of reason and solid counsel. He was also an encourager, always seeing potential and the best in people and situations despite the years of struggle during apartheid. He was an eternal optimist. Wallace was a champion of people, and it was through Wallace’s belief in me and my dreams of a better South Africa for all, enacted through equitable business, that I co-founded the Sekunjalo Group in 1998. I am, and will always be, grateful to him.

He once was quoted as saying: “From a young age, Iqbal Survé has learnt what it was to face life-threatening challenges. Yet, as poor as he and his family were and as rough as it was in those pre-democracy days, he still managed to grow up with a kind heart and a community-minded spirit.” Wallace has helped me stay this path over the years, and amongst many other reasons, I shall sorely miss his guidance and compassion. I have been blessed to count such luminaries as Madiba, Ahmed Kathrada, and Wallace Mgoqi as close companions, advisers, and friends in my time. They have motivated me to want to do more for my fellow human. These relationships were forged in the dark days of apartheid and the ‘struggle’ for our freedom from oppression.

We could all have become bitter, but instead, we have tried to ignite the light of hope and action in those around us. There is a better future for us all, a sentiment and belief that Wallace embodied.

Not too long ago, Wallace, who was born in 1949, a year after apartheid was instituted, wrote the following, reminding me of how far we have come and yet, how far we still must go: “Constitutional democracy work is not about producing a copy of our Constitution from our briefcases or bags, or point out what our laws say, but by acting out what is contained in its pages.”

It is not for nothing that an entire town is named after someone, and Wallacedene is named for the man who championed its people, for he was also the embodiment of action through his work with land restitution.

He could not abide injustice, and from qualifying as a social worker, he studied and graduated as an advocate, even going so far as to be nominated as a candidate for Chief Justice of South Africa. I was delighted for him, as he had sacrificed so much for this country and for the dream of our united democracy.

It was, therefore, a grave injustice that elements of this country, a country he served better than most, turned on him because of his association with AYO and persecuted him. Articles written by many who were not even around in the dark days before democracy were abhorrently cavalier in their approach. They took their toll on him, I am sure. But all is not lost. Wallace, being the moral compass, God-fearing, loving, kind and intellectual man that he was, would not want people to mourn his passing as a tragedy. He would want people to learn from their mistakes and to appreciate that words mean things and that we all have a right to dignity. He would most likely ask them to consider the damage they could cause before putting the proverbial pen to paper or speaking.

For his whole life was about righting the wrongs of others and making South Africa a just, fair, and reasonable place in which to prosper. He always had hope in us, saying: “There is much to be said about the resilience of South Africans, who have survived crisis after crisis. Hope of a better tomorrow has always been our mainstay; what we can imagine we can also create into reality.”

At present, I am struggling to see a brighter future without my friend, but I know he would not want me or anyone else to mourn him for too long. There is much work to do to create the reality we want to live in South Africa, and I can think of no better tribute to this great man than making it happen.

Rest in peace my friend.

Founder and Chairman of the Sekunjalo Group, Patron of Survé Philanthropies and Non-Executive Chairman of Independent Media.