The ANC should act on the guidance given by the party’s veterans and not just honour them when they die, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said at a tribute for Ahmed Kathrada in Rylands last week.
The tribute, at the Ghosia Manzil on Wednesday April 19, was arranged by the ANC Robert Waterwitch Thornhill branch.
The branch also paid respect to human rights activists and struggle heroes from its branch who have died recently, including Solly Omar, Judge Essa Moosa, Peter Williams, Ramesh Vassen and Dr Ebrahim Akoojee.
Ms Sisulu said she was speaking on behalf of a generation that grew up under the apartheid state’s worst excesses, as it clamped down on those willing to give up their lives in the fight to liberate South Africa. “It was a relatively youthful leadership with young families,” Ms Sisulu said.
“Balancing the incredible demand of building the ANC, organising protests, serving time under arrest, and that of bringing up young children, was a permanent struggle. In those days the ANC was a 24-hour occupation.
“I speak here of an ANC that demanded total commitment, an ANC made up of people with no other agenda, but to give their lives for the freedom we enjoy. An ANC so totally different from the one we have now that uncle Kathy and his Rivonia veterans were constantly alarmed at what we have become – all of us.”
Those nurtured and looked after by Mr Kathrada, and the generation whom he inspired, all owed him an “incredible gratitude”, she said.
“It’s a gratitude we feel very deeply because we were never able to thank him appropriately for his amazing generosity of spirit and his influence on us.
“He was a natural ally for all of us. Young enough for us to relate to and yet old enough to be utterly responsible,” she said.
Ms Sisulu said many did not know of the anguish Mr Kathrada had felt in his later years and how it had deepened with time. He had sought no special favours for the role he had played in the struggle.
“He was as humble after Robben Island as he was when he went into prison. He shied away from the limelight and even turned down positions of authority. A remarkable feat when you consider how positions are fought for now in the ANC.”
She said there was a time when the ANC elders felt that their value was only symbolic. “That it only existed when we brought them out for their credibility and to get us votes and for most of the time, it is though they do not exist and when they pass on, we honour them. By the time uncle Kathy died he had been very disillusioned. Importantly, not with just one person, but with all of us.
“Whatever guidance he tried to give was scoffed off in public by the Youth League and other formations. And what did we do? We sat on our hands and did nothing. Did nothing to defend him. Did nothing to reach out to him, to assure him that we value his concerns and views.
“We, all of us sitting here, need to ask ourselves – why would we allow a man who has given so, so much go to his grave with a sore heart?
“In just this year alone, we have lost three sterling leaders of this community. How did they feel about us? Were they proud of us? Did they have hope for the future for an organisation they gave their entire lives to?
“It has almost become a ritual. We meet to pay homage to our heroes. We extol their virtues, bemoan our loss and then we go back to the rut that we have created. We live with and we do nothing about it.
“We have become complacent and passive. We lost the City of Cape Town in 2000. We complained and explained why we had lost. We lost the entire Western Cape province and we did the same – complained and found an excuse. We lost three metros in 2016 and we did not heed the call of our people.They have now taken to marching against us and we are still in denial.
“We need to regroup, and rebuild the organisation. The only honour we can give to our stalwarts is for us to keep their flame burning in the hearts of our people, reignite the burning passion of our leaders and capture the future till every clause of the Freedom Charter has been fulfilled.”