He is a dad any child would dream of having – Jonas Gwanga’s family salute him

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Jonas Gwangwa performing on stage during the 2014 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival held at Sandton convention centre in Johannesburg. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Renowed trombonist Jonas Gwangwa is a man of style, family, privacy and integrity. This is what those closest to him know and love about him.

Gwangwa, a songwriter, composer and producer is a man of many talents. His skills in the kitchen are something his son Malose and daughter Mpho can attest to.

“His meals bring the whole family closer together.”

Last month it was Gwangwa’s birthday and the family came together to celebrate him and reminisce about the man who has been their pillar of strength and admiration for all these years.

Gwangwa has taken ill and is at home resting with loved ones all around him.

“He is a loving father, a caring husband, a wonderful great grandfather and grandfather and someone who is drawn in.

“We are a tight family, loving and very happy. Every family has those little things but we do rise above them,” said Violet, his life love, social activist, wife and mother to his children. Their love story will soon be published in a book the family is working on releasing through a series of Gwangwa projects to come.

Last month (September) Gwangwa was honoured by the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz with an exhibition of his work and accolades, many of which can be found in his home in Observatory.

The unassuming home is made for his big family, a large garden area and yard space to allow all the generations to enjoy each other’s company.

Jonas Gwangwa’s children, Keituletse, Mpho, his wife Violet, all seated, Mojalefa and Malose at a gathering to mark his birthday. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso African News Agency (ANA)

“The first time we were all together under one roof was in 1993. He has managed to make a home for the children and that is the most important thing for him to have achieved and my children know that too,” added Violet.

Gwangwa’s affiliation with the ANC resulted in him and his family living apart and making homes in countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Romania and Botswana.

“Besides being out of the country and scattered, we managed to stay glued together. He is a father and he has made a home for the children. That’s the most important thing for him to have achieved. My children know that too.”

All of his seven children have good stories to tell about the role that Gwangwa has played in their lives.

Mpho, one of his three daughters, has many fond memories of her father.

Gwangwa celebrated his 82nd birthday on October 19 and the family of seven children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren honoured the man who has been their compass for all these years.

“I am the worst at singing in the family, but I am the one who knows how to appreciate music because I dance to it.

“One of the things Papa used to say to me was to ‘stick to my feet’ because the singing was so bad,” she chuckles.

Mpho remembers the days when the family had been living in different parts of the world while in exile. Reuniting with her father in 1976 was a highlight for her.

“It was a dream come true because we were growing up with other children who had both their mothers and fathers.

“I used to identify my father with an aeroplane when one flew past I would shout up to it (and remind her father to bring her specific items).

“I wanted to do all the father and daughter things.”

When she was getting married in Zambia, Mpho was in Zimbabwe and her mother Violet was in Botswana.

“I didn’t know what I was going to wear and my mom had offered to bring me a dress and my father would bring me the shoes. I was very excited.

“He came all the way from Zimbabwe to make sure he would walk me down the aisle in those shoes. It was beautiful.”

Mpho credits her father for teaching her how to cook and iron.

“Exile was not glorious. We didn’t have much but one thing papa used to do without fail was to make sure there was always meat in the house.

“He would get his gigs (finished) and come home with the meat.

“I pride myself with cooking great stew because of him.”

When her husband died while living in England, her father was her pillar.

“He is a dad that any child would dream of having.

“My birthday wish for papa is for him to fully recover; he has a lot of things he needs to do.

“He is a son of a teacher and he too has teaching qualities. There is still a lot that people can learn from him.

“I want him to recover and teach and leave his legacy, while he is alive.”

Malose, one of Gwangwa’s four sons, has the same sentiments about his dad. His skills in the kitchen are all thanks to his father.

“I developed a taste for almost everything, thanks to papa. When we were in the Netherlands papa would come with pickled octopus, telling me to taste it. Even now I am like that.

“I have many fond memories, the fondest was when we came back from exile papa would walk us to school at Barnato Park.

“My dad is strict and I grew up with rules and I appreciate them now as I am older. I see a lot of him in me now. You can place memories with people and that has always stayed with me.”

He said as a family they always held each other’s backs. “The idea that we can be apart, come from different backgrounds and still know each other and be a solid family, is amazing.

“I loved cooking with papa in England when we stayed with my sister, Mpho.

“I would get my apron and he would show me how to make an omelette and I still do it to this day.”

Malose added that the way his father was with the family, was the same way he gave of himself on stage.

“We would become jealous of it as well. It speaks to how private he is, how giving we are as a family. Cooking does that for me, I always remember home, doesn’t matter how far we are from home. Those are the things we would like to celebrate as the family.”

The family all agree that Gwangwa was born with style.

“Papa has 136 ties, that man can dress,” Keituletse revealed.

She says her father most likely started the colour-blocking trend, because of how he knows how to match colours and dress himself.

“He loves Joe Nina, Freshlyground, Thandiswa Mazwai, Nathi and Bheki Ngcobo.

“He has a keen ear for South African music because he loves his country.

“That rubbed off on all of us. We think of how to contribute to the betterment of this country because that was what he was about.”

Malose has a strong bond with their last-born sister Keituletse.

The two spent most of their time together while living in the Netherlands.

“I have come to really respect what he had to go through. We have learnt how to separate public from home.”

The siblings agree that if they were to come up with their own awards for their dad, they would fill the house. In September Gwangwa was honoured by the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz with an exhibition of his accolades, honorary doctorates, music and images. Many of these can be found in their Observatory home.

Malose’s wish for his dad is for him to realise his deepest wishes for the family and the nation.

“He really cares about this society. He has a wealth of knowledge and he brings it home and applies it. I would like to see that being passed on; his legacy continue with us carrying the idea we can be better people.”

Violet is reminded of how much her husband loves his own music.

“If we play it low he jokingly asks if we want to keep him a secret.”

His son, Mojalefa, has had the privilege of working with Gwangwa as his manager and is always pushing to get more of his father’s music out there.

“He has a huge discography and people don’t know just how much music is out there.”

He has fond memories of his life, growing up with different icons walking in and out of their family home.

“When you are young you don’t realise what’s happening around you. I used to ask where dad was and finally got to see him in Norway when he was busy with the Amandla Cultural Ensemble.”

Mojalefa Gwangwa talks about his father’s journey at their Joburg home. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso African News Agency (ANA)

Gwangwa’s work with the ANC saw him travelling for a number of years.

“It was a stretch of almost 10 years, I can count that of the 10 years, we spent about three years together,” recalls Violet.

Mojalefa also remembered the little things like how his father would buy them clothing items while he was away.

“He was working and you realise now that he was working for his people. My relationship with him was both business and personal.

“When he needed to talk to me as a dad he would take the business hat off.”

Mojalefa is inspired by his parents’ love.

“You see how he treats her and it gets instilled in us. My dad is a superhero to me. You can see it in is eyes that his strength is coming back.

“He will be there to continue his work and pen his legacy.”

Keituletse was the apple that didn’t fall too far from the tree. She tried to escape but music called her back.

“I tried to run away because his shoes are too big to fill.”

She is inspired by her father’s love for South Africa.

“He has a keen interest in teaching our musical roots. He loves our cultures, dress and has instilled that in me deeply.

“I have been with him in studio, writing scripts for stage, dreaming up ideas. Directing is a space I share with him that I treasure. We speak the same language of what is possible in the creative space. For his birthday I wish for him to feel what we feel when we talk about him.

“I wish for him to see the gratitude we have. I wish that for him in multitude and for him to see how his people love him back.”

Mpho said the love her father has for his country is astounding.

“South Africans, he values them and any gratitude he receives from South Africans means the world to him. When the people validate him he is complete.”

Keituletse added: “His career is built on the love for his people and he travelled the world singing about his people. You have to love your people to make songs about them, to travel the world and have a career based on that. It is not something that can come from a place where it runs out.”

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