Journalists and media liaison officers paid tribute to the late anti-apartheid activist and veteran spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa at a memorial service held at the Government Communication and Information System in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“Ronnie understood his role very well, that of being the conduit between the media and his principal. He executed that job with aplomb. Ronnie was not a gatekeeper, he was a facilitator. He did not make the news, he delivered the news. Well, some of us did make the news, accidentally so,” said Tshwane executive director for strategic communication Selby Bokaba.
“Ronnie represented what I call old school of communication. There was nothing superlative about him, he just stuck to the basics. He comprehended the symbiotic relationship between the media and government. He understood that we needed the media, in as much as the media needed us.”
Bokaba said unlike some media liaison officers, Mamoepa understood that he was purely a communication officer, not a bodyguard for the government officials he worked with.
“Some of our contemporaries today have become spokesperson cum close protection officers, also known as bodyguards. They do things that are foreign to the communication craft. They do things that obstruct the media from carrying out their duties. They even obstruct themselves and their principals from carrying out their duties. It is not the duty of a spokesperson to block a camera from recording. It’s not your job,” said Bokaba.
South African National Editors Forum’s media freedom sub-committee chairperson Sam Mkokeli described Mamoepa as “a very special gentleman”.
“He never allowed his frustrations with the media, when we got things wrong – as we sometimes do, to get in the way of the message. His other tool was his knowledge level. We all, in the media, have had the opportunity to drink from his well of wisdom. He could hold his own on important matters, on public policy – from economic development to foreign relations,” said Mkokeli.
“He was very sharp, yet very patient. He raised the bar in terms of public service. He gave us a benchmark to measure ourselves and our colleagues on the other side of the communications divide. But Ronnie was not a populist, and he was not a groupie. His job was never to handle social media accounts of his principals. His job was never to run around behind politicians … carrying their handbags … shielding them from public scrutiny. He was never a gatekeeper. He gave us great access to the politicians he served.”
Mamoepa’s family has announced details of the official memorial service.
“Arrangements are being finalised for the official memorial service which will be held at the Tshwane Events Centre in Souter Street, Pretoria West, at 10am on Thursday. The funeral service will be held at the St Alban’s (Anglican) Cathedral on Nana Sita Street in the Pretoria CBD at 7am on Saturday,” family spokesperson Groovin Nchabaleng in a statement.
“Mr Mamoepa will be buried at Zandfontein Cemetery to the west of the Pretoria CBD.”
President Jacob Zuma has declared a Special Provincial Official Funeral for Mamoepa, who died in Pretoria on Saturday after suffering a stroke last month.
Zuma hailed Mamoepa as a “highly regarded government communicator, accomplished public servant and freedom fighter”.
In a statement, the Presidency said Mamoepa, a former Member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, had became actively involved in the struggle for freedom and democracy at a very young age, which led to his arrest by apartheid security forces and a five-year prison sentence on Robben Island while still in his teens.
“He will fondly and forever be remembered for his humour and humility as well as the sterling work he displayed during his extensive spell in government where he served various government departments and political principals as spokesperson with distinction until his untimely death,” the Presidency said.
Mamoepa had worked as spokesman and head of communications for the first post-apartheid Gauteng premier, Tokyo Sexwale, between 1994 and 1996. He later served as a Chief Director: Communication and spokesman to former President Thabo Mbeki and Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, before becoming foreign ministry spokesman.
In 2014, Mamoepa was seconded to the Presidency by the department of home affairs and became spokesman for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a position he held until his death.
Zuma has ordered that the national flag be flown at half-mast at every flag station in Gauteng on Saturday, the day of Mamoepa’s funeral.