Funeral For A Friend

February 2, 2004
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The death of VuyoMatanda saddened journalists and supporters of peace around the world.

Mr. Matanda, who died Jan. 17 of cancer at his southeast Grand Rapids home, spent most of his 57 years working for a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa.

His stories and photos appeared in newspapers around the world, from Grand Rapids to Germany to England to South Africa. He moved in rare circles, counting Archbishop DesmondTutu as a friend and making plenty more friends along the way.

Mr. Matanda was an occasional contributor to the Business Journal and sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine, and his pieces never failed to inspire thought-provoking discussions on social justice and human rights.

When Tutu came to Grand Rapids last March, Mr. Matanda was there to cover a speech at Van Andel Arena that drew 6,500 people. He said he was never prouder of his adopted hometown than at that time.

“As a South African/American I hoped that those who committed crimes against humanity under the rule of apartheid would be brought to an international court of law. Through the Truth and Reconciliation process, which Archbishop Tutu headed, everything took a different and unexpected turn. He has proved to be a man of balanced and consistent wisdom, his cry for nonviolence has not changed. His approach sobered me against all the frustration that I went through in South Africa, that after the monstrous system broke down we still need to hold hands together to build a new country under majority rule.”

That more than 6,000 local people would turn out to hear Tutu’s message about a country on the other side of the world was heartwarming, he said. And the ovation at the conclusion was inspiring.

Mr. Matanda’s funeral service was Saturday, Jan. 24, but as is the African custom, his wish was to be buried with his ancestors. The cost of $15,000 to transport his body to South Africa, however, is too much for the Matanda family, so the community is being asked to help.

The Rev. MwayaKitazi, pastor of the church where Mr. Matanda helped others acclimate to America, is helping coordinate donations. He can be reached at 245-5311.

One of Mr. Matanda’s favorite sayings was, “God does not forget.” Let’s hope Grand Rapids doesn’t, either.

  • When one thinks of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the first thought that often comes to mind is … food?

Well, probably not. But for seven years the GRACC has put on its annual Taste of the Chamber to showcase member caterers, restaurateurs and food vendors.

This year, the showcase will include the new DeVos Place, where Taste of the Chamber will take place from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10.

The cost is $8 for chamber members and $10 for nonmembers, and visitors will be able to select from more than 15 booths offering some of the best food and drink in town. And variety will be the spice of the event, too, as everyone from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel to The Corner Bar will be involved.

  • The chamber event could represent a cheap night out for some, but the Michigan Restaurant Association probably won’t mind if you skip one night of eating out this year.

That’s because the MRA is looking forward to a very prosperous 2004, with a projected 3.9 percent increase in annual sales to a record $11.4 billion.

“The news of another year of expected growth is extremely positive for Michigan’s restaurant industry,” said MRA Executive Director RobGifford. “But with new restaurant concepts continually entering the market, it means our current owners and operators are going to have to stay on their toes in order to stay on top of such a highly competitive marketplace.”

  • Locally that restaurant growth is not always good news. Campagnia, near Knapp and the East Beltline, closed last Monday, but Bistro Bella Vita, which is owned by the same group, continues to hold its own in downtown Grand Rapids.

JamesBerg, Bistro’s managing partner, said one major issue that led to Campagnia’s demise was the proliferation of chain restaurants in West Michigan.

He said the number of chain restaurants near Knapp’s Corner made it difficult to compete and that Bistro’s owners forecast continued sales and customer base erosion for Campagnia during 2004.

“Campagnia has enjoyed a loyal guest following since we opened in March 2000 when we had limited chain competition,” Berg said.

He said business at the downtown restaurant is healthy and that the firm will focus its efforts there while looking for growth in other areas less dominated by chain restaurants.

There also appears to be a movement afoot locally that addresses that same issue.

Word has it that a group called IROC (Independent Restaurants Opposed to Chains) is in its formative stages and is hoping to encourage healthy discussion regarding the situation in West Michigan.

  • Pittsburgh, Pa., isn’t exactly a sister city to GR, but in September it held the grand opening of its own version of DeVos Place — the David L. Lawrence ConventionCenter, also a waterfront site (it’s on the south bank of the Allegheny) and also having a dramatic roofline.

But now, thanks to some ollllld-time big city bookkeeping, the center — or, at least the city — is under a bit of a cloud. According to that town’s daily paper, Pennsylvania state government officials are demanding answers about how the city — supposedly on its financial last legs — happened to spend about $500,000 on the grand opening. The state, in fact, has given organizers until mid-February to supply the details.

Apparently those details are really, really vague. The paper noted that the only available balance sheet merely notes that the city spent $225,119 on consumable supplies, $65,175 on promotions, public relations and advertising, and $209,706 on “other.”

Hmmm, somehow we can’t imagine bank man DavidFrey or his colleagues at Grand Action ever signing off on such a document.

The $375 million convention center has not quite double the exhibition space of DeVos Place.           

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