When Young Stars Die

In memoriam of Thembi Losi, born this day, an inspiration to Stateless Diplomat contributor Dalisu Jwara.
31 January 1991 – 30 December 2013

The last time I saw Thembi Losi was at my 21st Birthday Party in Johannesburg. She had just arrived from Port Elizabeth to attend an Allan Gray Orbis Foundation event and was being accommodated in a Hotel which was quite far from where the party was hosted: one of my mentors, Margie Whitehouse, was hosting the party for me at her residence in Houghton Estate. It was almost time for me to cut the cake. In my stubborn tone, I told everyone that I would not until Thembi Losi arrived. My friends drove off to fetch her, and the party continued as they told her that I would not cut the cake without her.
My sister then gave me a call, and reprimanded me in her angelic voice “Dali! Please don’t keep others waiting, cut the cake without me.”  I then retorted stubbornly, “Sikulindile Lana” which means “Thembi, we are waiting for you here”; she then sighed as she always did when I wouldn’t listen to her sisterly advice and hung up. As soon as Thembi arrived, she gave me the tightest bear hug, tickled me and brought my birthday cake.
After some time, Margie pulled me aside and told me that she was really impressed with Thembi; they were both chatting away in the lounge whilst I entertained guests. She described her as being sweet, charming, respectful, and superbly intelligent. This was the first time they had met  ̶  Thembi usually bonded with everyone, young and old people alike, she embodied the tenets of “Ubuntu”-A South African maxim which signifies that a “person is a person through others.” Thembi was able to weave through the common thread that connects people. Whenever she stepped into a room, she lit it up with her infectious smile, and piercing green eyes. Before she left, she tickled me again, warned me to not drink excessively, and said I mustn’t forget to buy my host a gift, as a token of appreciation. The next day she called me to make sure that I had stuck to my promises. Thembi was an influencer and brought out the best in her peers. Throughout my tenure at the University of Cape Town, she had adopted me as her little brother. We developed a strong bond and under her guidance I was able to charge straight into difficult headwinds – I became a stronger person.

Thembi Losi was a respected student leader. She was a recipient of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Scholarship. She served as Secretary General of the Investment Society, was selected for the South Africa-Washington International Programme in 2011, and was 1st runner up in South Africa’s Old Mutual/Nedbank National Budget speech competition. She was entering the pantheons of greatness-and had started making a pivotal difference in society through mentoring disadvantaged 15 year old girls from local townships, speaking at various functions. Thembi was channelling her ambition towards driving change on the continent. She was due to start working at a leading Investment Bank – Rand Merchant Bank, and often told me that her colleague Michael Cole’s words inspired her: “Guys lets go into industry, let’s work hard  and 10 years from now, let us all meet up, pool resources and start solving Africa’s problems”. She had already started…
Left to right: South Africa Minister of Finance Pravin Ghordan, Thembi Losi  Mutual Emerging Markets Ralph Mupita and CEO of Nedbank Mike Brown

In 2012, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and Thembi became my anchor. She made sure that I took meals, invited me to church, and would lighten up my mood with her humour. Thembi never stopped believing in me. She often told her friends and family about me. I would often receive phone calls from her Mom asking how my day went, and claiming that I was due to pay her family a visit because I had now become her brother and their adopted son. I was content with being in her shadow, but she often gave me centre stage.
I started to believe the words Thembi told me; I became more confident. I remember telling her that I was afraid of asking questions in lectures: Thembi said “Dali, when you are in that Finance lecture tomorrow please write down your question, count to three and raise your hand”. If I didn’t succeed she would then come attend my lecture the next day to come and support me. Thembi knew that I embraced challenges and she incentivised me to achieve my goal by daring me. I finally asked my question in class, and Thembi was ecstatic when I told her. We both danced on the corridors of Leslie Social and people passing by gave us odd stares. I didn’t care-I was finally breaking out of my shell.
In Lloyd Blankfein’s words “College was an intimidating place for me, the other students seemed naturally confident, many had travelled and seemed to understand the world”. Thembi made me feel like I belonged, this made me more ambitious. Thembi also introduced me to the soulful sounds of Tracy Chapman, Asa and India Arie. I remember telling her best friend Sihle that Fast Car by Tracy Chapman reminded me of Thembi.
So remember when we were driving driving in your car

Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk

City lights lay out before us

And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder

And I had a feeling that I belonged

I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone”

I grew from strength to strength under her tutelage, we would catch up over lunch to discuss my future plans, books I was reading, girls I was interested in, and God.  She was a devout Christian and never ceased to amaze me with her Love for others, undying spirit of kindness and divine wisdom. I was often amazed by Thembi’s ability to form meaningful bonds with individuals from different creeds, she was a rare commodity; someone who inspired hope wherever she went.
After her funeral my close friend Loide De Almeida told me how Thembi had inspired her to succeed Thembi herself as Junior City Mayor of Port Elizabeth. I wasn’t the only one she was raising to greatness.
She had supported me when I boldly started writing articles with a few business professionals from RMB and the South African Reserve Bank. When she was shortlisted as a finalist of the National Budget Speech competition, she was often called into radio stations for interviews and one such interview coincided with an opening event I was hosting, she quickly raced back to campus after her interview in order to support me, and seeing her on the stairs spurred me on-it meant a lot for me she had been with me during dark times. When I was elected President of the Investment Society- she was there with me, she told me how proud my grandmother would be and that she hoped that I could finally see the great path ahead of me.
Lesiba Mothata, the Head of Markets and Economic Research at Investment Solutions, was coming down to Cape Town to deliver a presentation to investors based on his recent trip to China. He asked me to invite two of my friends to dinner. I invited Thembi and Zwelihle Mfundisi as they were both Economics Honours students. That evening I took a step back and listened – I absorbed every word they said and was amazed by the intellect Thembi possessed. She asked such profound questions around the economic development of Africa, the role entrepreneurship should play in fostering growth and employment in South Africa and the importance of  quality education. She spoke with such passion and conviction, she may as well have been a panellist in Davos at the World Economic Forum grappling with complex topics eloquently and intelligently.
A few days ago, I attended Lesiba Mothata’s presentation on Russia at the Investment Solutions office in Sandton- before the event began he came up to me and hugged me, and gave his sincere condolences. He told his colleagues that even though he had met her briefly-he was hurting, in his words:

She was a beautiful young lady, overabundant, bubbly, eloquent, and intelligent-the future of Africa.”

I am pained by the loss of my sister, but my grief is incomparable to the pain that her family and closest friends are going through right now. My interactions with her justify my belief in God and hopefully someday she will escort me into the pearly gates of heaven. I know that she has already interacted with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Martin Luther King Jr and the many greats who have traversed the rocky terrain we now tread on. In her short life she inspired many and her death has made us question our own personal destinies and legacies. I have sobered up, and every day is a testing ground for me to pursue my goals and to make a meaningful difference in society.
Erik De Ridder, a co-founder of a successful South African youth led movement “InkuluFreeheid” said:

Thembi’s inspired imagination and visionary nature- helped me understand before I was ready to see. It is extremely difficult to accept that someone with so much potential should leave us this early. Powerful people are leaving us too soon, we can only hope that we’ll be able to succeed in our tasks without them. Their absence will weaken us in ways we can’t imagine.  I wish we had more time to see her change South Africa; unlike in most cases when we say invoke platitudes. Thembi was the real deal. We really needed her”.

A few weeks ago I took a walk down the promenade in Umhlanga Beach, in Durban- I scanned the skies, watched the crowds, and reflected on your passing. I wept for you Thembi, I’m still in denial and I’m heartbroken. I remembered your messages “I’m thinking of you and praying for you brother, Stand up Straight!! You’re the best little brother – I’m inspired by you”.

It’s been an honour to call you my sister-I will always love you.

That day at the beach I heard your voice, I think I heard you say… “Don’t mourn for me Dali- I am infinite

Through you Thembi, I have learnt to test limits, push boundaries and to continue venturing into uncharted terrain. The pursuit of an ideal is a powerful concept. It is sometimes the first step towards affecting change- not only did you pursue your vision daringly, you coupled it with acts of love, passion and kindness. I am now convinced that angels exist – you left us too soon.


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