I attended the funeral of Cadre Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada today in recognition and celebration of a life lived for the just cause of non-racialism. Kathrada lived a simple life; he was modest and a lifelong activist. As part of that generation of “Rivonia Trialists” he held his own and, particularly after Mandela left, attempted to fill the vacuum of leadership. Not overtly, but in a subdued way.
Come the hour of his death, though we knew he was ill, we still didn’t expect him to leave these shores on the day he left. Anybody who tries to understand SA politics as an unfolding drama – and especially ANC politics – would have expected a fight-back strategy, with the funeral as the base from which to launch.
The first salvo fired in this fight-back strategy was a request from the family of the late Kathrada that President Jacob Zuma, the ANC and SA President, is not welcome. This was later changed to ‘the President can come but he won’t be allowed speak’.
Deputy President of the ANC and SA, Cyril Ramaphosa led the political delegation at the funeral.
My personal view is to respect the wishes of the family, for it must be assumed that such made up part of his last wishes. While we don’t have clear-cut confirmation as to whether Kathy said it categorically that way. It leaves one to also allow for those who argue the plausible anger and pain of his life partner Barbara Hogan, who was also offloaded by the President.
The second shot came from Blade Nzimande who, with his “parasitic patronage networks” claim, received loud cheers. There is no doubt as to where the South African Communist PArty stands. Clearly the lines are drawn.
The Secretary General of the ANC attempted to remind the veterans that they have a responsibility to guide the movement. This was responded to by some in the crowd, shouting “let’s meet tomorrow! and you must listen…”
Programme director and also chairperson of the Kathrada foundation, Derek Hanekom, clearly over-eager to introduce Motlanthe as the keynote address, blundered severely as he gave an adumbrated life path of Motlanthe in politics. He tried to tell us all how Motlanthe worked as deputy president under Thabo Mbeki. Motlanthe, by way of introduction, cleared up this unnecessary and convenient attempt of Mbeki association.
Then came Motlanthe. On the programme he was set to read the eulogy – which he didn’t do. Instead, he chose to give a speech anchored on the letter Kathrada sent to Zuma almost a year ago. This move confirms this strategy was discussed, if not rehearsed.
Clearly Motlanthe was the proverbial marksman today. He would get the loudest cheers when he repeated parts of the letter. He took the liberty to go for the jugular.
In my assessment, he chose to use the letter perhaps conveniently as the final words of Kathrada, knowing that since that letter much effort was shown to engage the content and spirit of the letter. To therefore use the letter in this sense was perhaps to parasite on it with clear political intent and agenda.
We must not forget most speakers today, from Hanekom, Motlanthe, Makhura and Nasheen Balton are all trustees and in management linked to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
In between hearing Valli Moosa jokingly asking Gordhan if he was being fired today, as we walked to the grave site I also heard Ebrahim Patel asking the Secretary General the same question. I unfortunately did not hear his response since I was chatting to someone else. Clearly the hot topic is Gordhan’s future.
The last shot came from Balton, the Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, who took the liberty to make Pravin stand and and then told him that whether he remained Finance Minister or not he represented what Kathrada stood for. Balton went further when he addressed Malema. He told Malema that Kathrada wanted to take him to Robben Island. Balton used this moment to insert himself into the mainstream political heavyweights by unnecessarily making this about Gordhan and Malema. His actions may also confirm aspects of what I have termed Indian hegemony. We easily talk of white hegemony yet we seldom admit Indian hegemony.
The funeral is evidence of a fight-back strategy, with Kathrada’s letter caustically revived by Motlanthe to call again for Zuma’s resignation. It also became the flexing of a historical political muscle – essentially premised on a historical reality of unified veterans and former presidents who are paraded as angelic; the sophism of a crafted discourse.
In the end, the fundamental question becomes how does today’s funeral help the much-needed unity of the ANC, particularly in the year of celebrating OR Tambo?
If the attempt was to heal the party today, clearly it failed. If the intention was to solidify the ANC as the leader of society at a political level, it instead paraded chasms.
If the aim was to celebrate Ahmed Kathrada, I left somewhat questioning if we saw that today.
In SA and the ANC, the argument of natural angels and demons defines this era. It’s a narrative that depicts many not purely informed by a love for the ANC, but a love for themselves too.
The fight-back strategy has identified its enemy, and that enemy is the sitting ANC President. The idea was to rally on the subject of a call for the president’s resignation. The marksman would be Kgalema Motlanthe, the one who lost at Manguang and remains untrustworthy to lead the ANC in Presidency. His bullet was Ahmed Kathrada’s call for Zuma’s resignation. The rallying point was Pravin Gordhan.
I took issue with Kathrada’s letter relating to his claim that the people have spoken, because that simply cannot be assumed as correct. The people of SA speak in elections, and no election thus far has red-carded the ANC and its leadership to resign.
To summarise today’s funeral – it was a rally for those who wish to position themselves as the saviours of the ANC, and by extension, SA. In a sense, the sterling work of Kathrada was dented with this fight-back strategy.
I had hoped that we would see progress in the healing of the ANC. That did not happen. Did we celebrate OR Tambo today? I am not sure.
The battle lines are drawn.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine