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Simba Mhere’s memorial marked by tears, emotional tributes

2015-02-06 12:14

Cape Town – Simba Mhere's memorial service on Thursday afternoon was a highly emotional and poignant event. Friends and family at the Rhema Bible Church in Randburg gathered and struggled through emotional tributes for the Top Billing presenter.

Simba Mhere, 26, was killed on Saturday morning in a car crash with shock reverberating through South Africa's TV and entertainment industry; a TV presenter beloved by millions of viewers remembered for his "loud roar and gentle humility".

Besides family and friends, the auditorium were filled with actors, celebrities, dignitaries and ordinary South Africans who didn't know Simba Mhere but watched his weekly inserts on the weekly lifestyle show.

Top Billing presenter Ursula Chikane was the programme director and valiantly brought her best presenting skills honed over years to the memorial service of "our Sims" but even her voice quivered – until eventually even she too could no longer hold back the tears, through deep breaths and pauses as she broke down when talking about "our baby brother" midway through the memorial service which lasted just over three hours.

"A young man; gone at 26; but who will not be forgotten for many, many years to come," said Chikane.

"There is not one person who could have been prepared for the heartbreaking event that unfolded early on Saturday morning and the devastation that would follow that indeed our Simba had passed away so tragically and so suddenly," she said.

"No matter how his star was rising, he never let it go to his head. And every assignment he was given for Top Billing, he treated it as if it was his very last. You could see how much he loved doing what he did, and for him it absolutely was not a job. It was his passion. And it was his calling," said Chikane.

"Simba to us was the total and consummate professional.

"In the over two decades that I've been with Top Billing we've seen presenters come and go. And the main reason why presenters go is because they develop a really nasty attitude. Simba didn't even develop one percent of a nasty attitude," said Ursula Chikane.

‘You can always follow your dream’

Simba Mhere's father Joseph Mhere spoke proudly about the son he lost. "I have loved every moment with my son from when he was a little boy. I'd have loved to take credit for bringing Simba to South Africa. But I believe Simba brought us here so he could spread his wings. We have asked God to give us the grace to accept what we cannot change."

Close friend Russell Lang who knew Simba Mhere since they were pre-teens said: "Simba had schooled me in one of the most valuable lessons in life. No matter what position you're in, you can always follow your dream and you can successfully achieve it."

Veteran executive producer Patience Stevens from Tswelopele Productions, who hardly ever talks in public and who've produced the popular show for 22 years for the SABC, got up on the stage for Simba Mhere, to emotionally bring tribute to the young presenter she found in a TV presenter search in 2010.

"Simba was a gentleman, who people could look up to and relate to," said Patience Stevens. "It's been an emotional rollercoaster and it is an absolute tragedy for all of us. I hope our God will strengthen all of us to deal with the passing of one of the most precious people I have ever met."

'We pretty much spoke every day'

The most heartbreaking part of Simba Mhere's memorial service was when co-presenter Jonathan Boynton-Lee went to the mic stand.

The Top Billing presenter who calls Simba Mhere "my brother" was visibly stressed and constantly struggled to make it through what he wanted to say in a tearful voice and taking breaths to try and keep his composure – an emotionally raw and unvarnished departure from the polished presentations on television viewers see him deliver on a weekly basis.

"We pretty much spoke every day," said Jonathan Boynton-Lee. "I said it was my dream to be Batman. But really Simba ... it’s my dream to be you."

Ursula Chikane closed Simba Mhere's memorial service in the most perfect way and the only manner it really could and should have been done – with an adaptation of the traditional Top Billing closer: "Goodnight, Simba. And God bless."

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