The little girl, dressed in a red skirt and a pristine white shirt, looked up at her father whose face towered over the people gathered in the cavernous hall…

She scurried over to him and reached out her little hand to touch him one last time.

She looked down hoping to see more of him.

The hall, packed with hardened journalists and thick-skinned politicians, let out a brief but collective sigh of sadness at the spontaneous act.

Xolani Gwala’s youngest daughter recognised his face on the large screen that was facing mourners at his memorial service that was held in Northriding, Johannesburg, on Thursday morning.

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She lovingly reached out for her father with the innocence of one who knows only love and happiness, but this time he did not grab her or flash that famous smile that dazzled not only his friends and family, but millions of South Africans, including those facing him at the sharp end of an interview.

The young girl did not utter a word during the programme, but hers almost certainly was the loudest at the event organised by Radio 702 in honour of its iconic host who died on Friday after a long battle with cancer.

Among those who attended the service were colleagues and peers, politicians, friends, family and some of the listeners he touched

The speakers, who included Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams; Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi; Gwala’s close friend and fellow broadcaster, Robert Marawa, and another of his close confidantes, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, who visited the talk show host in Israel while he was receiving treatment there earlier this year.

Almost every person who addressed those seated in the Grace Family Church hall spoke of Gwala’s humility, calm nature and his unique ability to connect with people, even the powerful people he held to account.

Lesufi said Gwala possessed “absolute humility”, had “no arrogance” to speak of, and never gave in to “political pettiness”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams noted how the journalist “rose to fame, but did not let fame define him”.

“You convinced me when I was in ICU that I needed to live … I listened to God, I listened to you, and I lived.

Marawa, who suffered his own health scare earlier this year, recounted how Gwala egged him on while he himself was in hospital after suffering another heart attack.

“You convinced me when I was in ICU that I needed to live … I listened to God, I listened to you, and I lived.

“A few weeks ago, I went to see you in Morningside [Clinic] ICU and I asked you to live; you listened to me, you listened to God and you lived.”

The popular sports anchor and journalist lamented that “[t]his was not part of the dream. You were meant to be part of that dream”.

In a moving gesture, 702 staff handed the headphones Gwala wore when he held listeners captivated on the station to his wife, Peggy-Sue Khumalo, and brother Mdu.

Popular gospel group Joyous Celebration punctuated the moving speeches with vibrant song – something many speakers noted was close to Gwala’s heart.

He will be buried in KwaZulu-Natal, his home province, on Saturday.

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