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Legendary DFA journalist dies

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“After I realised that stories I had given to Joel were being used without any changes, I started thinking that I could do this myself.”

LEGENDARY DFA journalist Vusi Tukakhomo, the first full-time black reporter at the newspaper, died at his home in Ipeleng, Kimberley, early yesterday morning.

Born in Barkly Road in Kimberley on March 21, 1945, Tukakhomo attended Barkly Road High School (now Tshireletso High School).

Tukakhomo was appointed at the DFA on November 5, 1978 and spent more than 35 years writing for the newspaper in a career studded with highlights and achievements.

As a youngster, Tukakhomo worked at the then Kimberley City Council and later at Morris Radio. He started freelancing for the DFA in 1966 while he was working for the then Bantu Education Department.

“In those days everyone wanted to write soccer stories and I was no different,” Tukakhomo said in an earlier interview.

Friends with then DFA freelancers, Ronnie Joel and Lennie Himson, Tukakhomo initially gave his soccer reports to them for submission to the newspaper.

His first story published was a soccer report in the Weekend World.

“After I realised that stories I had given to Joel were being used without any changes, I started thinking that I could do this myself.”

Working just around the corner from the DFA, Tukakhomo made friends with the staff and started submitting his own reports.

While his first love was sport – especially soccer – he realised he needed to explore other news avenues and through his pen the history of Kimberley and its people were documented in the DFA.

In a tribute to Tukakhomo by former DFA editor Kevin Ritchie, for the DFA’s 130th birthday supplement, Bra Vusi, or Ike as he was also known, was described as a legend.

“He sat quietly in the corner, churning out reams of copy on the tiny portable typewriters we used, on any subject known to man.

“It seemed Vusi knew everyone in Kimberley. He did, he knew them as far back as their grandparents and normally tried to get all of it into his stories too.”

Tribute was again paid to Tukakhomo in the 140th edition, where he was described as “a prolific writer and photographer, being as adept as a court reporter as he was a soccer writer”.

“He is best remembered for his indefatigable documenting of township life, every possible aspect of it, and the encyclopaedic knowledge he brought to the newsroom,” Ritchie stated.

“He has been perhaps the most honoured of all DFA staff, winning an early De Beers Shining Light award in 2000 during a Heritage Day concert.”

The award, first instituted by De Beers in recognition of excellence in the local jewellery industry, was extended to reward excellence in the community, whether through service or the arts.

Along with fellow recipient, former editor-in-chief of the Sowetan, Dr Aggrey Klaaste, they became the first journalists to receive the awards.

A number of photographic exhibitions of his work were also held, the most memorable being “Through Vusi’s lens”, a retrospective exhibition at the Duggan Cronin Museum of 15 years of his photographs. Tukakhomo was given the recognition because of his role as one of the great preservers of the history of Galeshewe.

He was also invited to contribute to the McGregor Museum’s “Between States of Emergency” exhibition, where his work was showcased alongside legendary South African photographers, the late Alf Kumalo, Peter Magubane and the late David Goldbatt, among others.

“My decision to enter journalism was triggered by my love for reading and writing, which ultimately, as with so many others, led me to journalism,” Tukakhomo said in an interview with fellow journalist, Boipelo Mere.

“During my school years, I excelled in English and Afrikaans and I was encouraged by my friends to consider journalism and writing as a career.”

“I retired from journalism in 2006, when I realised that my memory did not serve me that well.”

As his editor at the DFA, Ritchie yesterday remembered Tukakhomo as a “legendary newspaperman; indefatigable and gracious”.

“He played a huge role telling the full stories of people who at the time would otherwise have been airbrushed from the news agenda, or rendered mere cyphers. He inspired all who had the privilege of working with him and he would have been embarrassed, given his innate humility, to know how many of us – me most of all – would have considered him a mentor and role-model. He will be sorely missed, though always warmly remembered.”

Tributes to Tukakhomo poured in from around Kimberley as news of his death spread yesterday.

“Through his lens and pen, Ntate Vusi Tukakhomo, there are extremely few people who were able to record the lives and struggle of the people in the township of Galeshewe throughout the most turbulent times,” Sol Plaatje spokesperson Sello Matsie said.

“During the total national onslaught against the local population and despite media restrictions, the military lockdowns of township schools, the shoot-out in Kagisho Street of ANC cadres, as well as the thousands of so-called marches to the then Transvaal Road Police Station, Vusi recorded all of these.

“He was a very humble person who I knew since my youth. As spokesperson of the municipality I’ve had many interviews with Bra Vusi. We will also miss his sports coverage, especially local boxing.

“We are pleased that his lifelong work has been preserved and is available for the public to access at the McGregor Museum. To his family and friends, we pray you are comforted during these moments. He served the profession of journalism very well as one of the very few in our city. Future generations will have enough material to use in their scholastic work.”

After his retirement from the DFA, Tukakhomo continued to do freelance work. He was also working on a book about the business people of Galeshewe.

Tukakhomo’s wife of more than 30 years, Sylvia, paid tribute to the man who was also a husband and father.

“He was a very quiet person, who kept to himself,” she said yesterday from their Ipeleng home, where mourners had already started gathering.

“He was very sweet and I never had any problems with him,” she added, recalling the days he would drive around getting stories and taking photos, and then coming home and typing them up.

Sylvia said Tukakhomo had been diagnosed with diabetes and since the beginning of this year his health had deteriorated rapidly. About two weeks ago, he fell and the doctors suspected that he had suffered a stroke which left his left side paralysed.

“He passed away at around 4am this (Tuesday) morning,” she said.

He leaves Sylvia, as well as their son Richard and daughter-in-law Lesego and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Friday from 2pm to 4pm at the Vuyolwethu High School Hall. The funeral service will be on Sunday at the same venue (Vuyolwethu High School) at 7am until 9am when the cortège will leave for the West End Cemetery.