Members of the military enthusiastically sang struggle songs while motorbikes were revved up on Wednesday as family and friends remembered the late Mandla Maseko, who died before he could become the first black South African in space.
Maseko, who was known to colleagues as “Spaceboy” or “Afronaut” – beat more than a million entrants in 2013 to win one of the 23 spots at the Axe Apollo Space Academy in the US.
Reports from the BBC said Maseko spent a week at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida doing tests in preparation for an hour-long sub-orbital flight, originally scheduled for 2015.
Unfortunately, the aspiring 30-year-old astronaut met his untimely demise during the weekend. Maseko was involved in a fatal motorbike crash on Saturday night.
In an interview with BBC before his death, Maseko said he wanted to “motivate and inspire young people in Africa and prove that they could achieve anything whatever their background”.
On Wednesday, his family members and colleagues gathered at a memorial service held at the Air Force Base in Pretoria.
Maseko was a cadet officer in the South African Air Force.
Speaker after speaker described the Maseko as ambitious and selfless. One said Maseko was a young man filled with positive charisma.
“Mandla had a famous quote … he always said the sky is not the limit, but your mind is,” said Colonel Jacobs, the deceased’s colleague.
Jacobs said the nation had lost a great treasure in Mandla – a man she said had been destined for greatness until death robbed him of the possibilities that awaited him.
“At his tender age, he had achieved what most of us could have dreamed of … he didn’t let any barriers block his path … he pushed and strove for nothing but the best. We have truly lost an investment in Mandla,” Jacobs said.
As she stepped down the podium, it was evident that Jacobs was struggling to hold back her tears.
All the while Maseko’s family wept silently in their front row seats.
Maseko’s mother cut a solemn figure. She wore a doek and wrapped herself in blankets – traditional garb for mourning.
At some point, she broke down and wailed uncontrollably and was comforted by her dead son’s father.
– African News Agency