Saturday, the Croc and I went to say goodbye to Pius Langa. We got all dressed up. Shoes, long pants, shirts with collars. Socks. Jackets. I even wore boxers. I even dodged the Ghenginator’s homecoming thrash Friday night. I didn’t want to turn up half hammered and stinking like a brewery.
I go to more funerals than most people. Comes with the job I guess. Most of the time I’m there because I have to be. Some of the time, it’s to make sure that the deceased is really dead.
Not Saturday. Saturday was about paying respect to a really decent man. The Judge was a cool cat. From the time I got involved in journalism and politics, the Judge was there. He wasn’t a Judge then. He was a murderously good lawyer with a massive social conscience.
The Judge was one of those guys who was at the centre of things. But quietly. The Judge was about content, not form. A real serious dude. The Judge was always doing the right thing. Taking on the Babylon in court. Handing them their asses most of the time. Getting detainees out of detention. Exposing twisted laws and the twisted bastards who made them.
In the 1980s, we ran this struggle newspaper. The New African. Mad agitprop. No adverts. The Judge was on our board. So was Diliza Mji. Baba Archie Gumede too. Baba Archie was old by then. Very old. Baba Archie would pitch up for a meeting and fall asleep. Diliza and the Judge did all the work.
The one Saturday, the Judge turns up for a board meeting. No suit. Pants and a shirt and sandals. A bag of big, juicy black plums from the street vendor outside Dinvir Centre. The Judge hands me the bag of plums and says: “Please could you wash those.’’ I’m off to the kitchen in a flash. Hurtle back with the plums. I hand them to the Judge. The Judge takes one. Hands me the bag. I pass them around the table. We’re all munching away. The plum is bangin’. Juicy, sweet, soft.
A couple of years later, I’m working for Nadel. Nadel is this lawyers’ organisation that the Judge founded. The Judge was its president. I’m a researcher in the Nadel political violence project. I’m also a buttonhead battling to keep my s**t together. It’s shortly after payday. I’ve blown the rent money at the merchant. Again. I go to the project head for a salary advance. He’s this noncommittal cat. He kicks me upstairs.
I’m off to the Judge’s chambers. I’m sweating. That rank Mandrax sweat. Burnt tyres. My guts are churning. The Judge is sitting at his desk. I give him my pitch. It’s a no go. Nadel’s run on struggle money. It would be ethically wrong to give me a loan. I thank the Judge and turn to go. The Judge tells me to sit down. Whips out his personal cheque book. Writes me a cheque. Tells me to sort it out when I can. Tells me to look after myself.
That was the Judge. A decent, hard-working man who cared about people.
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