Wits staff member was dedicated “to helping students and his spirit of collegiality made him a remarkable individual”.

A Wits staff member who worked as a consultant at the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office (Faso) has been remembered as an empathetic person who touched the lives of many students that sought assistance at the office.

Thembinkosi Mthembu (34) passed away on Wednesday, April 29, at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, after succumbing to cancer. He was laid to rest in his hometown, eManguzi, at KwaMhlabuyalingana, KwaZulu-Natal on May 2.

“His impact on students is evident through the outpouring of [messages] on social media from those whose lives he touched through kindness, compassion and servitude,” Wits senior communications officer Buhle Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela. “He joined the university in 2013 and his dedication to helping students and his spirit of collegiality made him a remarkable individual,” Zuma continued.

The news of Mthembu’s death circulated on Facebook on Monday, May 4, when a screenshot of an e-mail notifying colleagues of his passing was leaked. 

The e-mail sent by Portia Simelane, NSFAS supervisor at Faso, read: “I am not sure where to start however, Thembinkosi has passed on can you please [advise] your student representative as well.”

Wits students immediately took to social media, paying tribute to Mthembu and retweeting an image of Mthembu posted by the Wits SRC, captioned: “Gone but never forgotten.”

Nosipho Nkosi (22), a third-year politics major recalled her first interaction with Mthembu in 2018. “He was very friendly from the beginning, and chatty. I have had to battle my way around my NSFAS three years in a row hence every time I visited the office he would say, ‘wena futhi maNkosi’ (you again, miss Nkosi?).” 

“Faso will never be the same again. This man was leadership” wrote Sibusiso Mgidi in a retweet of the post. Commenting on the tweet, Simon Lebaka wrote: “I remember in 2017 upon submitting my NSFAS documents how he assured me that I was not the only guy who applied for funding. How I had to just chill and pass my modules for four years then I’ll be well. Calm and collected he was. Fare thee well my brother.”

Simelane told Wits Vuvuzela that his colleagues were surprised by Mthembu’s death. “It came as a shock to all of us. We lost a brother, friend and he was an angel on earth. I will miss him, I am still not well since his passing.” 

Mthembu’s sister, Zanele Gwala, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “He was a God-fearing man, loving, caring and a humble person. A pillar to his family, we will always miss him.”

FEATURED IMAGE: The death of Thembinkosi Mthembu came as a shock to his Financial Aid and Scholarships Office colleagues and students. Photo: Provided.