On the 3rd August this year 2010 Sydney Toto Peter died tragically in a car accident in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Sydney was one of my closest friends and the man who introduced me to my teacher, Mum Gwevu and who helped to integrate me into the local Xhosa community. Our friendship began in the late 90's in post-apartheid South Africa. As the fires of Apartheid started to settle good men and women like him and his wife, Nokuzola, became true South African heros in seeing the humanity inside people rather than giving in to polical and social prejudice.
When I was found to have the Xhosa calling to become a Xhosa Sangoma/ Medicine man, Sid and his wife took me under their wings and said that I was free to come to their home at any time if I needed help. My teacher, Mum Gwevu, doesn't speak English and in the late 90's I spoke no Xhosa so Syd spent many hours of his time helping to translate for me. For hours we would speak about dreams, ancestors, Xhosa culture, beads, etc. He was never flustered or annoyed by my questions. In fact he would make me laugh, and tell me old stories about the Xhosa tribe. He was also very proud of me and my Sangoma gift. He would say to his friends "come and see my Umlungu (white guy) friend dance. When he dances you can feel the 'umoya' (spirit)". As a Xhosa Sangoma I had to prove my gift through my dancing. Syd loved to watch me dance and he would travel all over the local township to watch me dance.
When I struggled to be accepted by the local community I would talk to Syd and he would heal my loneliness. I remember talking to him recently about racism and how tired I was of being judged in South Africa for the colour of my lovely white skin. Again he laughed in his typical way and said to me, "that's nothing John, how would you like to be called 'kaffir' (very derogatory term used by white South Africans during Apartheid South Africa for Black South Africans) ?" He then related a story a few years ago when his car broke down on a particularly hot day in Kimberley (Northern Cape, SA). Like any man he looked for the nearest pub to get a cold beer. He went into this pub and exclaimed to me how wierd it felt going into a bar being the only black guy. "But hey John, it was the New South Africa, so I thought it would be no problem". Apparently as he sat down the white man next to him got up and exclaimed under his breath "F****ng Kaffir!". At that Syd was not perturbed in the slightest but merely said "hey, this 'fo**n' kaffir would like to buy you a beer, do you want to drink or walk??" The white man was so taken aback that he said, "ag ok, drink". So Syd bought him a drink and after about 2 hours of drinking they both knew one another's names, and whenever this man drove near where Sid lived in the Eastern Cape he would give him a ring and they would meet up. They became friends despite politics and skin colour.
Syd taught me about 'Ubuntu', (humanity), and to always laugh and see the lighter side of life despite sometimes extreme obstacles that we both faced in the townships like poverty and disease.
On the 3rd August South Africa lost a noble son, father, and brother. On that day I lost a brother and a man who showed me so much love and compassion that my life changed completely. Sydney leaves Nokuzola his wife, three children and the whole of Joza township who loved him. His memory will never die, and whenever we joke and play and enjoy one anothers' company we will remember him.