The gentle giant that was Princess Masilo is no more. It is deeply painful and exceedingly difficult to think and speak of this colossus in the past tense. While she lived, we basked in the rays of her warm spirit, learnt enormously from her brilliant mind and were inspired by her tenacious and resolute character. Princess was, without doubt, an invaluable gift to her family, her friends and everyone who had the privilege to interact with her.
I first met her in the early 2000s. Her qualities were noticed by my late husband, Stan Nkosi, who insisted that she would add value in our then infant mining venture as one of the women shareholders, which I reluctantly agreed. My reluctance came from the fact that I neither knew her nor was I convinced that my husband knew Princess sufficiently to make the call that he made.
In time, I was persuaded by my husband’s assessment of who Princess was. I discovered that in addition to her unquestionable intelligence and warmth of character, she was a hard-working and honest young woman. What little she came to possess, she attained by the sweat of her brow.
She thus became one of the many shareholders of the women-led Kalahari Resources which owns Kalagadi Manganese. She was an invaluable shareholder as she was a personal friend.
Whenever you needed Princess for any work assignment, she would never disappoint. She possessed an impressive and unimpeachable work ethic. Princess approached every task placed at her feet with commitment and, above all, military precision. This distinguished her from everyone else in that everything she did radiated with passion and drive as her signature stamp.
Princess was also an excellent entrepreneur. Rain or shine, she was always engaged in one short, medium or long term business venture or the other, even as she faced challenges, some of which were enormously daunting. Like the workaholic bee, she persevered without giving up. Little did she know that in her quiet way, she was an inspiration to those or some of us who witnessed her in action.
In this regard, Princess embodied everything that a liberated woman should be: self-respecting in every way, an independent spirit, the strength of character to withstand the shocks and trauma of racialised patriarchy and the ingenuity to create and re-create avenues of survival through an honest day’s work.
As many women know, in a racialised patriarchal society with its oppressive and perverted moral universe , the route that Princess chose is littered with mines which everyday maim and kill women in full public view as it does in hidden private spaces at home, in the work place and especially those who dare venture into entrepreneurship. Thanks to her strength of character, our Dearest Princess did not falter to the very end. For this and all her achievement, let us give her a well-deserved and final applause.
Princess must have consciously thought, and decided, that only her deeds should speak for themselves. So, the more she acted, the more she spoke. And the more her deeds spoke, the more she became comfortable with herself and who she was, gaining greater confidence into the gentle giant that she was.
As women, we should reflect on these qualities as we seek to improve our condition as citizens and as human beings who deserve equality and respect. It is not enough to complain (as we must) about the unfair treatment to which we are subjected without talking about the values and the everyday practical action that lead to our liberation as individuals and as women as a whole.
Princess was also not the one to participate in petty “Pull Her Down Syndrome” schemes and manoeuvres which sometimes take our eyes off the ball as women.
As we all know, our country is juggling with many problems. One of the least spoken about is the retreat of the family in nurturing young people and, by extension, community and nation building. Put differently, we are not talking enough about the retreat of the family in nurturing young people which will inevitably result in the country’s diminished fortunes.
Princess exemplified a model parent and an epitome of a responsible citizen who fulfilled her obligations to her family and, in so doing, her community and country. For her, children were not just messengers to be sent here, there and everywhere or spoken to sternly whenever their waywardness required censure. They were, so to speak, to be hand-held and nurtured as a full time vocation from birth into adulthood so that they can grow into responsible members of the community and citizens of South Africa and the world.
I have no doubt that her immediate and extended family will continue to take care of her children as best as they can. By this I do not only mean the family’s capacity to expend the necessary financial resources for their upkeep, for there are some things about the raising of children which money cannot purchase. I am talking about nurturing, moulding, inspiration, mentoring, positive influence and role modelling which is as important for our children as the three meals to which they are entitled.
Because community and nation building is an important and unavoidable existential question for our country as it is, we must also think and talk about families that are unable to take care of orphaned children, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic exerts itself in every nook and cranny of the country.
Consider, for example, the number of children who have become or are estimated to be orphaned as a result of the pandemic. And what of children whose parents have fallen on hard times in ways so severe that it renders their humanist sympathies to the orphaned wholly impotent? Is there a national plan (not just a government plan) to deal with the situation? How does the Covid-19 or Basic Income Grant debate reflect this reality or its potential?
Whatever the answers to these questions, we will need the intelligence, warm heart and the industriousness of a Princess to find the answers.
To Princess herself, we are still coming to terms with your departure, the void it has caused and the implications of life without you going into the future. We draw strength and encouragement amongst others from the fact that we know that you wanted nothing but the collective good of your family, friends, colleagues and your country-men and women.
We will strive to reach the goals you sought to achieve while you lived. Above all, we will try as best we can to be as good to our fellow persons as we can.
Personally, I sincerely hope that the process of her remembrance, now and into the future, will help to replicate the qualities of which she was made. In this way, our bright star and humanity’s great gift, Princess Masilo, and what she represented, will be immortalised for all time.
May your soul rest in peace.
Click on this link to watch the video recording of Princess Masilo’s funeral held on 11 August 2021 in Warrenton, Northern Cape.
Daphney Mashile-Nkosi is the founding Chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese.