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Minister Pandor`s speech in the parliamentary tribute to Mr Ahmed Kathrada

13 June 2017

Mr Ahmed Kathrada was a true patriot, a faithful fighter, and a disciplined revolutionary. He is part of a cohort of leaders of South Africa and the ANC who are exceptional in terms of living true to the national ideals articulated by and embodied in the very essence of that which we call the movement of the people the glorious organisation the African National Congress.

Drawing on the example of leaders such as OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Albertina Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albert Luthuli, Winnie Mandela, Peter Mokaba Chris Hani and a thousand more.

Kathrada chose to refuse privilege and comfort in service of the people and the struggle for freedom. His personal testimony of life as an activist in his acceptance of the Freedom of Johannesburg speech confirms the resolute commitment of this stalwart.

It`s possible that there are mean and venal observers among us who seek to deny Kathrada what may be termed a generous set of accolades but we are fortunate in that we are not interpreting history - we are referring to direct observations.

The signal ANC document, `Through the Eye of a Needle", describes the broad requirements of leadership as follows:

A leader should constantly seek to improve his capacity to serve the people, he should strive to be in touch with the people all the time, listen to their views, and learn from them. He should be accessible and flexible and not arrogate to himself the status of being the source of all wisdom.

From working closely with his comrades and friends through to the defiance campaign, the mobilisation for the Congress of the People, drafting and adoption of the freedom charter, promotion of non-racialism by working with all revolutionary components of society, revolutionary sabotage, MK cadre, Rivonia Trialist, Robben Island prisoner and activist Uncle Kathy proved to be a true leader.

And yet, with all these revolutionary credentials Kathrada reflected the following as set out in `Through the Eye of a Needle`:

A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct- as defined by our revolutionary morality. Through force of example, he should act as a role model to ANC members and non-members alike. Leading a life that reflects commitment to the strategic goals of the NDR includes not only being free of corrupt practices; it also means actively fighting against corruption.

Honourable members if these were to be utilised as a guide for assessing former Honourable member Kathrada I believe it correct to say he would probably achieve a distinction.

Some may ask: what is the sum total of his national contribution while in this House?

Well he is among the many `midwives` who gave birth to our Constitution and shaped the many progressive laws adopted by this Parliament, laws that have resulted in positive changes in education, health services, access to social services and support, inclusive sport and housing provision of a scale rarely achieved in a modern democracy.

Several of us will recall his words at the funeral of our great icon former president Nelson Mandela, where he said, "My life is now a huge void..... I have no one left to turn to..."All of us know that all the Rivonia trialists shared a special bond of comradeship and friendship, yet none so close as Mr Mandela and Mr Kathrada.

Strange then that despite this great bond in this house and seemingly in their personal friendship Kathrada seemed to expect no special acknowledgement or reward from President Mandela. His was a rare humility, a rare dignity. Again as is said in "Through the Eye of a Needle":

A leader should seek to influence and to be influenced by others in the collective. He should have the conviction to state his views boldly and openly within constitutional structures of the movement; and - without being disrespectful - not to cower before those in more senior positions in pursuit of patronage, nor to rely on cliques to maintain ones position.

Kathrada reflected the call that leadership characteristics should satisfy the goals of our revolutionary democratic movement, a non-racial and non-sexist national movement, a broad national democratic movement, a mass movement and a leader of the democratic forces.

Drawing on these attributes of the movement, the retired former parliamentary counsellor to the first democratically elected president of South Africa, continued his life commitment to nurturing a non-racial society, a task on which all of us gathered here still have much work to do.

Kathrada held the strong belief that it is possible to support young people to develop non racialism and that this must be pursued with young people from all racial groups` backgrounds and classes if we are to achieve the ideals espoused by the movement. Thus for him the principles of the ANC were not for regurgitation - they were a map for a practical political life. Again he reflected the following drawing from through `Through the Eye of a Needle`:

A leader should win the confidence of the people in her day to day work. Where the situation demands she should be firm and have the courage to explain and seek to convince others of the correctness of decisions taken by constitutional structures even if such decisions are unpopular. She should not seek to gain cheap popularity by avoiding difficult issues, making false promises or merely pandering to popular sentiment.

Uncle Kathy chose the difficult issues of our times, rejecting racism, empowering youth and giving them hope in the future and where needed was ready to say that which may not be popular.

He would be the first however to chastise us for trying to make him a saint, he did not suffer fools or pomposity kindly, he had a wicked sense of humour and could be sharp and pointed in expressing disappointment and displeasure. His World Policy (Autumn 2012) contribution he does exactly that.

There is much for us as members of the movement to draw on as lessons, a lot for us as public representatives to learn and copy. We need to ask ourselves, whether in our daily, rather petty disagreements and name calling in this house, do we deserve the mantle of inheritors of this legacy. Are we doing all that is possible to serve the people? We all work really hard in and outside the house, work that is in service to the people, and in the pursuit of revolutionary ideals or has self-service become predominant to the exclusion of national service?

We have been bequeathed a glorious movement. We in the ANC can multiply its greatness or muddy it.

We have too our incredible constitution, a robust democracy and still thriving democratic institutions. How do we together make them serve not our idiosyncratic selfish ends but the people of South Africa, especially the most marginalized downtrodden and excluded?

I suspect Uncle Kathy would pose this question, reminding us of the immense power for good we hold in our hands, urging us to work together for the greater good.

I hope, honourable members, we will reply to him one day soon, and that that reply will allow him, and those we owe a massive debt of gratitude and service, to finally Rest in Peace. Hamba kahle qawe lamaqhawe.

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