Homage to Lieze: Friend, Mentor and Fellow Adventurer
By Judy Sikuza
I knew Lieze for nearly 5 years. And despite our age difference of 20 years and varying cultural backgrounds, we could not help but be great friends – once joking that we might have known each other in a past life. I cannot confirm details of our past life meetings, but I certainly rejoice in the honour of having encountered Lieze in this life.
I met Lieze via our partnership between the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, and OUP – which was an ingenious idea to meet a legal requirement that would go directly into funding Scholarships for brilliant young leaders. This, a direct alignment with both Lieze’s and OUP’s believe in the power of education to uplift and equip individuals and communities to better their lives.
For Lieze, the MRF and OUP partnership was as much a business imperative, as a personal one – because it spoke to contributing in a meaningful way to one of Tata Nelson Mandela’s legacies, and Lieze had a profound respect for Madiba’s vision and humanity. We often teased Lieze however on what a softie she was, because without fail, whenever she saw a video with Madiba in it, she could not help but shed a tear.
I experienced many beautiful moments with Lieze within the MRF-OUP context – from rigorous debates in board meetings about strategy and transformation, to friendly yet somewhat competitive dragon boat races where our young Scholars finally got to beat the old toppies at last year’s race to her dismay. I have fond memories of how excited Lieze was to be finally doing a tour of the famous Bodleian Library in Oxford, to presenting about our partnership in Nairobi. But as most people know, Lieze’s highlight in the MRF-OUP partnership was participating in our selections process where she enjoyed so genuinely the learning and meeting of the bright young leaders that we selected as Mandela Rhodes Scholars.
For a decade, the MRF has had a fruitful and enjoyable relationship with OUP, and Lieze was an invaluable contributor to that. The Foundation will always be grateful for the incredible investment in time, efforts and offerings made by Lieze to the advancement of our work and in helping us deliver on Madiba’s vision that we build exceptional leadership in Africa.
As meaningful as my working relationship with Lieze was, it was outside of work where we really got to deepen our friendship – together with our beloved partners. My wife Janet, Lieze, Shui and I all shared a common passion for sports, in particular cricket, tennis and rugby – and would often message each other with mushy emojis when South Africa was doing well – or debate whether Federer was really better than Nadal. But on a less superficial basis, the four of us instantly were able to connect at that deeper level of humanity – hence our WhatsApp group name being called Connection not belonging.
Some of our favourite things to do with Lieze and Shui (or Shoelace as Lieze called her) was to play tennis, have a braai (if Lieze didn’t burn the fish), receive recommendations on music artists and books to read, tease Lieze about how she didn’t understand sarcasm while we sipped whisky, finally getting converted into being cyclists, and the yearly ritual celebrating Chinees New Year’s where we shared reflections about life, love, our hopes, fears and dreams.
Although a citizen of the world, Lieze had an incredible belief in our possibility as a country, which is why she sometimes felt despair when she heard of the latest news updates that reflected our regression as a humanity. Yet despite the often-disheartening realities of the world we lived in, Lieze had a hope and optimism that propelled her to continue to make her meaningful contribution to the world in whatever way she could. She was very generous and kind-hearted, never using her power and influence for personal recognition. Rather, Lieze was a symbol that inspiring, transformational leaders like her can really be for the people, and with the people.
I am sure that for most of us here, Lieze was both a friend and mentor. I often sought her guidance on both work and personal matters. And with every conversation where I felt lost, she never made me feel judged, but listened and gave her opinion from a place of love.
Of course, the rational mind and the heart want to know how such a tragedy could befall someone who still had so much life to live and more lives to impact. But in true Lieze Kotze fashion, once she had undergone the various stages of grief and moved towards some sort of acceptance, she found moments where she could peacefully be grateful and proud of the life she had led. In August, while we were sitting on the veranda at their house in Porterville she said in conversation:
“The sad news has made me realise something. I don’t’ need to do anything else in the world except be present. If I need to write a book on my perspectives about life, leadership advise and so forth and so on, then it means I didn’t live in a way that allowed people to learn what they needed through the way I lived.”
Those words from our beloved Lieze could not be truer: if you were privileged to ever cross paths with her, then you were surely blessed with lessons and wisdoms from her that inspired you to want to be a better person.
So where has she gone to you may wonder? I imagine Lieze with Madiba right now, wishing him a happy 100thbirthday year. Doing a Madiba jive with her two left feet – dancing to Grace Jones’ 1981 record album Nightclubbing. Laughing with that memorable laugh of hers. And ushering us from above to live life fully as she did, and as authentically.
Thank you then for your inspiring life dear Lieze. Hamba kahle my friend, mentor and fellow adventurer. You are sorely missed already. Your body is now resting in peace. But your spirit remains with us forever.