Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN TRIBUTE

Khopotso Bodibe: Covid robs us of another wonderful human, journalist and activist

Khopotso Bodibe (Photo: Dylan Bush)

Khopotso Bodibe, beloved brother, friend, colleague, journalist, activist and wonderful human became another Covid statistic this week. Friends and colleagues, old and more recent, shared their memories.

Khopotso Mangoenyane Bodibe, or Khops, as he was known, was one-in-a-million. The tributes posted below recall his humanity, his love, his compassion, his big booming laugh and the incredibly important work he not only did as a journalist, but as a social justice journalist at the height of South Africa’s heartbreaking and deadly HIV denialism years. 

Week after week, Khops would produce his “Living with HIV” package which was broadcast in more than one language on SABC radio stations and community radio. It was groundbreaking work. 

Khops was a colleague and friend; we drove thousands of kilometres to report on the HIV epidemic in our country, slept in many dodgy places, shared many meals and discussed everything from life to love to safe sex to cooking a pig’s head. His social media pages reveal how he urged people to mask up, get the vaccine and not to listen to the denialists.

It is cruel that Covid has taken another of the good ones while he waited his turn to get the vaccine. 

Khops was a beautiful human and it feels wrong to write about him in the past tense. It was no secret that Khops loved his granny and it is no surprise that on his Facebook page she features under his favourite quotes: “ ‘Time and tide wait for no man” – Granny drummed the age-old saying into the core of my being, when growing up. Very relevant. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ – Also granny’s other favourite as she went along rearing three rebels. The teaching is all so true!” 

Go well, Khops – thanks for the love and the hugs and for always fighting the good fight. The world is a poorer place. I know wherever you are, you will be the snappiest dresser. I hope you know how loved you were. Rest in peace “my liefie”. – Anso Thom, Health-e colleague and friend.

***

Khopotso Bodibe (Photo: Elias Muindi)

His signature booming laughter and huge teddy bear hug greeted me almost every morning when I got to the office. Khopotso had a way of lightening up the day in the midst of all the challenges our work demanded. He was a very generous person who gave of himself and what he had unreservedly. He had a way of protecting and taking care of his loved ones, yet still asserting his boundaries. I am grateful to have benefited from his generosity and love. 

Khopotso was a smart and thoughtful person with an admirable work ethic. He used his voice and journalism expertise to fight for human rights, to speak truth to power and to assert what he genuinely believed in, such as the fight against HIV/Aids and gender equality, which he did both in his professional and personal capacity. 

I watched in awe and learnt so much from him and how he was able to juggle single-handedly running a radio show, Africa Gender Indaba, and our MenEngage Africa regional communications work where he effectively provided support to our regional partners. Many times I was a guest on his show, and it was amazing to see how he had a command on so many social justice issues and the passion with which he articulated them so well. 

I am personally indebted for his support in doing my advocacy work in the region. Many times he helped profile and illuminate those efforts and constantly gave advice on what could be done better. It is unbelievable that he is gone. He had so many dreams and so much to look forward to. Go well my darling, as you affectionately called me. You ran your race so well. The beautiful memories we shared will remain dear in my heart –  Mpiwa Mangwiro, Sonke Gender Justice.

***

Oh dear Khops! I cannot believe this is where we are today, friend. I remember when you started at Sonke and how well you seamlessly fitted and settled in (we were a bunch of huggers and a few new colleagues struggled with this). 

To the team you brought great skills topped with such an amazing character. In the time we worked together, I learnt so much from you, Czerina and Dylan – very valuable media and communications skills I carry to this day. No matter the pressures of the job, with you, every day was a clean slate – a new day to do better. You were never one to dwell on negativity, insisting we block all noises and focus on what needs to be done and leave it there. You were focused and had clear boundaries, one being constant on taking your lunch breaks, while a bunch of us worked through lunch to try to meet deadlines.  

I was glad for you when you moved to a different team, a space that aligned more with your personal goals. I’m glad to read from other colleagues how hard you worked to achieve your goals in your short life. You gave so much and laughed so easily. You will never be forgotten, Khops. 

You will live on in the hearts of those you touched, for nothing loved is ever lost. Your zest for life will be missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to your family and loved ones during this difficult time. May your beautiful soul rest in eternal peace. – Bridget Mnyulwa, former colleague.

***

Khopotso’s rich, deep voice and laugh still ring in my ears. For more than a decade, he, Anso Thom, Nina Taaibosch and I worked at Health-e News Service during the depths of the Aids pandemic, when South Africans did not have access to antiretroviral medicine. It was a grim time and HIV and Aids was heavily stigmatised. 

Every week for many years, Khops produced a radio insert called Living with Aids for SAfm – covering deeply emotional topics from how to tell your child she has HIV, to exposing quacks, the latest science about HIV, and more light-hearted features including ones on flavoured condoms. His programme helped to normalise living with HIV, a hidden reality for millions of people. During this time, various health department officials tried to use race to divide Health-e reporters, but Khopotso refused to play along. He and Anso went on to win the CNN Africa Health Reporting award for exposing Dr Matthias Rath, a quack who was promoting Vitamin C as an Aids “cure”. 

Khopotso was a man of principle, dignity and honour who loved humanity deeply. May we honour him in return and never forget his contribution to the struggle for justice in the health sector. – Kerry Cullinan, former editor of Health-e News Service.

***

When I think about Khopotso, I immediately picture his smile. A smile that touched his eyes. A laugh that was ready at the surface, exuberant and infectious. I remember his quiet, meticulous and conscientious manner and the pride and passion for his work. It has been years since I’ve seen him, but his laugh is what I remember most about him. So sad to hear of his untimely passing. My prayers go out to his family and loved ones. Rest gently, Khops! – Nina Taaibosch, Health-e colleague and friend.

***

Khopotso Bodibe’s intellectual stature and integrity made him an important voice of soundly-based, properly grounded sanity in the maelstrom of stigma and political denialism about Aids and HIV. He and his colleagues at Health-e News were a telling counter to the misinformation and fear that was widely being disseminated, often deliberately, about Aids. Khopotso’s premature death is a sad loss to our country and to journalism. His legacy is significant, but he had so much more to give. – Justice Edwin Cameron, retired Constitutional Court judge, human rights activist and friend.

***

Khopotso was one of the gentlest, smartest, funniest and most inspirational journalists I knew. He taught me so much over the years. I am still reeling at the news. – Prof Francois Venter, infectious diseases scientist and researcher.

***

It is my honour to celebrate the life of Khopotso Bodibe, a dear friend and a media maven. Difficult as this moment is, it is impossible to remember Khopotso and not hear his bellowing laughter or see his beautiful smile. A visionary with a gentle soul and a regal presence. 

Forever the consummate professional, working with Khopotso was both joyful and a constant learning experience. Easily so because he was a multi-talented individual whose love for journalism and human rights resulted in a kaleidoscope of award-winning media content and an enviable legacy in the social justice sector. His storytelling was authentic, and so was everything else about him, including his love for those close to him. 

If one could personify the phrase, “understood the assignment and nailed it!” Khopotso would be that person. Summed up, he was reliable, action-oriented and a lifelong learner. An awesome team player and best of all, an amazing human being. I am forever indebted to his enduring kindness and affirmation. – Tumie Komanyane, former colleague and friend.

***

I was fortunate to get to work with Khopotso Bodibe when we hired him six-and-a-half years ago to work on the communications team I then managed at Sonke Gender Justice. I left the organisation some months later but I was able to witness in our time together as colleagues his strong work ethic, his passion for justice, and also to be so impressed by how self-made he was, and how he had achieved so much while still sacrificing many of his personal goals to take care of his family and to be the parent figure to younger siblings, growing up faster than he should have, like many in South Africa are forced to. 

He and the rest of the communications team were in Joburg while I was in Cape Town, but of course he was a great addition to Sonke and to our “CSI” team; a team-player, humble, hardworking, warm and easy-going. It’s been just devastating to learn of his passing, the loss of this talented, young black South African activist and journalist, the loss to his family, friends and colleagues, the end of that beautiful big smile and boisterous laughter. 

It’s devastating too that he was so close to being able to get a vaccination, but yet Covid-19 was able to strike down yet another vibrant life that had so much more to do, to achieve, to experience. 

Khops, we hadn’t talked in a long time but I remember you with so much warmth and admiration, and your gentleness and joyfulness live on in your memory. Your passing has left us all just devastated and angry at Covid-19 for its ruthlessness and brutality, taking away sparkling and impactful lives, way too soon. 

Sending you love wherever you are and my deepest condolences to all who love and care about you, especially your family. – Czerina Patel, former colleague and friend.

Bridget Dylan Czerina and Khops- (then the CSI team, Communications Strategic Information) at Sonke Gender Justice. (Photo: Czerina Patel)

 

***

Khopotso is one person I’ll never forget in my life. He was my very first editor and manager fresh out of Rhodes University. He was so welcoming and had a genuine interest in my development as a journalist. Under his leadership I was able to hone my journalism skills from writing to proper storytelling, and most importantly he taught me the power of journalism to do good, especially helping  to give a voice to those in need. 

Recently we communicated via social media where he expressed how proud he was to see my professional growth. I didn’t know then that would be our last chat, but I’m glad we had that moment to reflect and on my part to show gratitude. He was a kind and caring boss. – Sipho Stuurman, former Health-e colleague.

***

None of us who lived through HIV denialism could ever forget Khopotso Bodibe’s strong and gentle voice calmly setting out facts, and the devastating impact of the epidemic on individuals, their families and communities. – Zackie Achmat, Treatment Action Campaign founder and social justice activist.

***

Dearest Khops, your departure is such a heartbreak. I still find it so hard to imagine how such a beautiful soul with that piercing laughter can just slip away and leave us all in pain. I looked forward to working with you more in your quest to revive my media skills. I vow to take the massive lessons I got from you to soldier on and create an impact through the media, just like you did. Thank you for the warm hugs, welcoming smile and the loving being that you were. Rest well, dearest. – Mphokuhle Mabhena-Lunga, colleague and friend.

***

I have lost my greatest friend; Kenya MenEngage Alliance has lost a powerful ally who humbly and passionately helped build the capacity of its team on both mainstream and social media engagement. To Khopotso’s family, I send my love and prayers in this moment of grieving and loss. It is our loss also.

Khopotso gave his life to empower others to become better in whatever they did, and he did it from the bottom of his heart and with a sense of humour. As one of his ardent friends and a close ally who benefited immensely from his generosity of knowledge and skills, he was always available even at the middle of the night to assist in any help I needed. What a magnificent soul! He was a true leader and used his power to serve others diligently. His ability to help and inspire others to become better will be Khopotso’s lasting legacy. 

Khopotso was my partner and my friend. I admired him very much and because words alone cannot express my true feelings, let me say goodbye to my dear brother. – Elias Muindi, programme officer, Kenya MenEngage Alliance.

***

For months we’d speak on the loss of others amid this sordid pandemic, and reinforce gratitude to each other for having health and life. I could not fathom typing this post in sorrow of your flight to the Heavens. A home you will fit right in. My darling Khopotso Mangoenyane Bodibe, as an Angel you already were on this earth, a loving, giving, striving, talented, social justice proponent, humble & honourable – always making me laugh in my dark hours. It will be sore not to ever hear your spectacular voice and hearty laugh again. A giant of a gentleman. 

“Better days are coming”: your positivity mantra rings in my ears since the wee hours of this morning. My sweet brother, my confidante, my motivator – your companionship was my blessing – may your precious soul savour celestial bliss. – Rouzeh Eghtessadi, executive director, SAfAIDS.

***

Khopotso didn’t have to say anything when he entered a room; you instinctively felt his giant, but gentle presence. With a laugh that could shake the walls and a wicked sense of humour, he was the perfect partner in crime during my time at Sonke Gender Justice. He was dedicated to social justice and solid health reporting and he was honestly one of the best men I have ever met. It was an honour and a privilege to have known him. Rest peacefully now, precious heart. You will be sorely missed. – Dylan Bush, production and multimedia manager, Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism.

***

It seems that our best are taken from us needlessly and relentlessly. Khopotso inspired me in so many ways. His voice, with its quiet dignity, was the reason I agreed to join the board of Health-e. The integrity of his reporting, the meticulousness of his craft and the humanity of his work spoke for themselves. I was equally thrilled when he joined Sonke years later and again I was able to watch the quiet twinkle in his eye that belied the force of his ideas and his clarity of thought. 

Khopotso was one of our nation’s most seasoned and best journalists, and it is no accident that he chose a medium that reached so many. In a world full of people who were interested in self-promotion, Khopotso put stories first, and used his voice to amplify others. He will be sorely missed. – Sisonke Msimang, author and social justice activist.

***

I used to look forward to listening to Khopotso’s sensible slot on HIV in the morning on radio during the 2000s. It was a deeply irrational time, with the government mired in Aids denialism. Khopotso was an important counter to that. I have not seen him in a long time but I recall his warmth and friendliness. Two new pandemics started in his lifetime. He was a voice of sanity against HIV and sadly taken by Covid. His death is a tragic reminder that anyone of any age can die of this disease. – Nathan Geffen, former Treatment Action Campaign leader and current editor of GroundUp.

***

Khopotso with friend Gerda Kruger and journalist colleague Mia Malan at the CNN Africa Journalism Awards in Maputo in 2006. Khopotso won the HIV category with his Health-e colleague at the time Anso Thom. (Photo: Supplied)

Khops was one of the kindest, most gentle people I’ve known in the journalism world. I’ll always remember his characteristic, “out of the tummy” laugh when he found something funny, ridiculous or ironic. His wonderful, human, health stories, especially on radio, will always stay with me. – Mia Malan, editor-in-chief, Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism.

***

The elegant poise, the warm-hearted laugh, the no-nonsense let’s-get-it-done approach to work – Khops was a valued and respected colleague who became a dear friend. We first met at the SABC where we produced AM Live and Midday Live together. It was a scoop to have Khops join us when we started Health-e News. As part of the original team that helped build the fledgling news service, Khopotso was a mensch and a cornerstone of our audio productions. 

Khops helped tell the stories of South Africans from all corners of the country who were having to confront the reality of HIV/Aids amidst the dark years of denialism. We deliberately called the series Living with Aids when all around us there was death. Khopotso’s gentle manner, thoughtful insights and resilient reporting bore witness to what was happening around us, always keeping the focus on the people who were affected. 

Hambe kahle, my friend, you have left us far too soon. We will remember you, as will the many whose lives you touched and enriched. – Sue Valentine, founding editor of Health-e News Service.

***

Khopotso was a wonderful friend and mentor. I’ve never met somebody who is so dedicated to their profession and the advancement of others. It was fantastic to work with Khopotso, who was a consummate communicator. Proactive, vivacious and well-organised. He possessed unique attributes that all mentees desire in their mentors. We were so blessed to have him. His dedication to the protection of human rights was evident in all of his outstanding efforts. He leaves a huge void in the industry, as well as in our hearts. 

He was such a hilarious man. As a result, he had a generous and gentlemanly demeanour. Everyone in the office knew he gave the nicest hugs. We will miss you, Khops – rest in power. – Amukelani Chauke, former colleague.

***

How does one even begin to describe the loss of this gentle giant? It makes you remember never to take anyone for granted. My thoughts are with you, his friends and family. Today I will light a candle, for his light will shine forever. I worked with Khopotso back in the day when he was at SAfm and then later as a journalist at Health-e. 

Khopotso used his voice and platform to break down stigma and discrimination through telling the stories of people living with HIV. He challenged the establishment and its denialist approach, aimed to educate the public on HIV, health and human rights. He was always willing to share his skills through journalist platforms such as Journaids, the regional editors’ forum and media workshops on using radio as a medium to promote health. He was a passionate journalist first, a defender of freedom of speech and human rights advocate, but most importantly, just the biggest gentle giant whose legacy is forever etched in the history of health journalism. – Richard Delate, friend, colleague and activist.

***

He was such a nice person, with a laugh. From where I sat in the health department, he brought that semi-township vibe to the great team of health journalists you guys had at Health-e. His audio clips always had that educational element to them, which I think was very empowering for ordinary listeners. May his soul rest in peace. – Sibani Mngadi, former spokesperson of the past minister of health Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

***

It is with a deep sense of sadness that I am paying tribute to Khopotso, who was the communication and media coordinator for MenEngage Africa (MEA) Alliance. I am very proud to have had the opportunity to work with him and his memory and spirit will live on, not just in the work he supported for MenEngage Africa and its in-country networks, but also for the kindness, humanity and love he expressed in this world. 

I am grateful for his clarity of thought, the powerful advice he provided, particularly on the documentation of success stories regarding the work of MenEngage Tanzania, working with media and social change communication on social media. May the legacy of Khopotso continue to drive project execution and implementation for gender justice, and serve as an exemplary beacon for human rights and gender activists all over Africa and the world at large. 

May the soul of Khopotso rest in peace. – Yared Bagambilana, colleague.

***

I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Khopotso Bodibe, whom I met in 2012 when I joined the South African National AIDS Council. It is a great loss but he has left a significant legacy around responsible health and HIV/AIDS journalism.

Khops exuded humility, kindness, gentleness, generosity, respect, humanity, charm, passion and insight. During his time at Sanac, I cannot remember a conference that Khops did not attend, where he will be managing multimedia projects on HIV and human rights.

Khops will be sorely missed by all of us, as a strategist, communicator, journalist, activist and dear friend, whose commitment to bringing the voices of marginalised people and communities to the centre of the Aids response inspired so many of us at Sanac. 

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. We mourn the loss of this advocate, and rededicate ourselves to our collective responsibility of ending the HIV and Aids epidemic in South Africa. – Coceka Nogoduka, executive manager: NSP implementation, Sanac

***

I first met Khopotso in the early 2000s when we were both based at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital and involved in the HIV response. I remember him hard at work producing one or another of the excellent radio shows he coordinated for Health-E News, his huge smile lighting up his small office at the top of a long flight of stairs, his warmth emanating straight through the open door and closed gate. I was new to Johannesburg and to Bara, so I immediately noticed and was drawn to his booming voice, his contagious laughter and his enthusiastic collegiality. I didn’t know then just how groundbreaking and important his work was, how he was one of the first radio journalists to broadcast stories about the science and politics of HIV and Aids into homes all across the country, how he used his mic to expose Aids denialists and profiteers and hold them accountable. He would, of course, go on to win prestigious awards for his work.

I couldn’t have guessed all those years ago at Bara that I’d have the enormous privilege of working closely with him for many years as colleagues at Sonke Gender Justice. His office at Sonke was also near the top of the stairs and whenever I visited our Braamfontein office I’d again always look forward to that big laugh, that broad smile and his wonderful extended embrace. At Sonke, Khopotso was an integral part of an amazing communications team who produced high quality radio, video and multimedia. Khopotso sometimes used vox pop clips to share the perspectives of those he interviewed on the streets of Braamfontein, as he did with this powerful piece on fatherhood, and, through his Africa Gender Indaba show, shone a light on gender activism across the continent.

Most recently he, his dear colleague Mpiwa, and I were working on the design and development of a podcast series profiling courageous partnerships between women and men working to advance feminist peace in conflict zones. Without any doubt the podcast series would have had with his signature excellence – just like the Africa Gender Indaba show he produced and broadcast across the continent, or the newer pan-African show Cry Like a Boy he often hosted and produced for Euronews.

I heard just on Monday that he had been sick and sent him a message wishing him a speedy recovery. It remained unread. On Tuesday, I learned that he hadn’t made it.

Khopotso lived his life with humility and quiet, fierce courage. He embodied the values he worked so tirelessly to advance: warmth, compassion, respect, and a determination to advance health and human rights for all. We can honour his legacy and memory by committing ourselves to live more like he did. – Dean Peacock, former executive director of Sonke Gender Justice 

***

Khopotso, you were going to take us to better insights to be better humans still through more of your storytelling and advocacy. That rare head-and-heart mix of incisive science and empathy, solid data and outrage. Truth. Relatable. Warm. Funny. Inspired. Inspiring. The kind of journalist we all want to be.

This is a moment when I really want to imagine that you can look and see what we are thinking and writing. Hope you knew in your life how much you were loved. – Ida Jooste, journalist DM

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"