Sarah Buitendach Editor: Wanted magazine
Lebogang Khitsane, owner of Bataung Memorial Tombstones in Katlehong. Picture: Veli Nhlapo/Sowetan
Lebogang Khitsane, owner of Bataung Memorial Tombstones in Katlehong. Picture: Veli Nhlapo/Sowetan

I had great, polished plans for what I wanted to write today. I was going to point you in the direction of New York’s reopened Met Museum. Using these pictures of it swinging back into operation, I would opine about the power of artwork and the importance of institutions that provide spaces for enrichment and celebrate creativity. It was to be a poetic ode to beauty.

But then I clapped eyes on the eNCA video of tombstone entrepreneur Lebogang Khitsane’s memorial, which took place last weekend, and I thought, who am I kidding — this is what everyone is talking about.

Because I’m not going to spoil the plot, watch it here, and then agree with me — and more than 300,000 other people — that you are shook, shocked and very entertained.

You might feel, after seeing it, that you’ve inadvertently just glimpsed a vignette from Days of Our Lives or Generations. All that’s missing is the dramatic soundtrack and a lead character possessed by a demon.

Bad jokes about “sands through the hourglass” aside, of course there are all sorts of serious conversations to be had about family trauma and politics in situations like this — but I’m going to leave those to you.

Rather, let me lead you down a rabbit hole about this clearly intriguing man and his work.

First, as they allude to in the news snippet, Khitsane started Bataung Memorial Tombstones – the gold standard in totally over-the-top, gargantuan grave markers across Africa. He died last week of renal failure.

Browse the company website and you’ll clock perfectly normal granite slabs etched with simple dedications to lives lost. But that’s not what established the mourning maverick as a household name. For a sense of who Khitsane was, listen to the interview that 702’s Bruce Whitfield did with him in 2017 to start. The link is in this article.

The gravestone Khitsane’s team produced for music producer Robbie Malinga is a good example of what bought him fame. Actually, I take that back: in truth, this R500,000, 7t statue caused such a to-do when it was unveiled that it had to be redone. The first iteration looked nothing like the man. See this Citizen piece for the before statue and TimesLIVE for the vastly improved after version.

The monument at actor Joe Mafela’s resting place in Westpark Cemetery is probably a better sample of Bataung Memorial Tombstones’ work. It’s a 6t “snapshot” of the kind of TV rooms we watched Mafela from — complete with a scannable QR code that details his story.

(It’s a career highlight for me that this is the second time I’ve written about this exact creation. My first FM snippet on Mafela’s stone-cold couch was an accompaniment to a great deep-dive of a feature that our team produced in 2017 on the industry of death. That’s well worth a gander too.)

Then, to illustrate just how, um, gravely lucrative a business tombstones were for Khitsane, here’s the UK Daily Mail’s piece on the video that went viral of him giving his daughter a Porsche for her 18th birthday.

“This man made funerals trend,” said DJ Thabo “Tbose” Mokwele in his friend’s eulogy. Talk about the prophetic understatement and marketing coup of the year. I, for one, have never discussed funerals this much ever!

*Buitendach is the FM's Life editor and editor of Wanted magazine.

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