Playing to the gallery at Kathrada’s funeral

Cde Ahmed Kathrada

Cde Ahmed Kathrada

Hildegarde The Arena
One of South Africa’s anti-apartheid luminaries, Cde Ahmed Kathrada, is gone and he was laid to rest in Johannesburg yesterday.His death and burial occurred when so much is happening in South Africa’s body politic. In the ruling African National Congress (ANC) they have issues, so too the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Kathrada family, ANC, the people of South Africa and the African continent. We have again lost an icon of the struggle against colonialism and the evil apartheid system.

One-by-one they are disappearing from our midst like shadows, but we sob with the hope and realisation that the sun has risen for Africa, although what has happened at Cde Kathrada’s funeral makes me think otherwise.

More of that later!

As an actor with the Zambuko/Izibuko theatre group, a few moons ago, we did a play, “Katshaa!: The sound of the AK”, a play that was “in solidarity with the heroic struggle of the South African masses”.

Then, prisoners at Robben Island were still locked up, and they included Cdes Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and more.

There was little hope of them being released.

The armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was doing its part to crush the apartheid system, and President Jacob Zuma was among those cadres on the front fighting the Boers. Workers and the people on their part also fought the evil system and the writer recalls Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s role as secretary-general of the National Union of Mine Workers. And, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela mothered the struggle with valour and boldness.

Thus we had a line in the play where one of us said: “Between the anvil of mass action and the hammer of armed struggle, we shall crush apartheid.”

Crushed it was even though the likes of Cde Kathrada were incarcerated for 26 years. It was more or less like a death sentence. But in 1994, South Africa became a democratic country. The question that begs an answer is: Was Mandela the glue holding the fledgling democratic process together, considering what happened when Cde Kathrada passed on early Tuesday morning? In mourning Cde Kathrada, was the revolution sold out?

Some people might argue until the cows come home about the complexities South Africa is faced with, but we counter that argument with the question: Why was it so easy for Mandela and his colleagues to forgive and forget the evil perpetrated by the crafters of the apartheid system?

People who spent almost three decades in detention could still come out and set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, something that has become a tool for protecting white capital monopoly.

In our culture, we don’t speak ill of the dead as we say, “Wafa wanaka!” (In death, we all become good). It is also a culture where paying homage to the bereaved is revered.

But strange as it sounded since Tuesday, President Zuma, who is not only the face of South Africa to the international community, as its democratically elected leader, but also the president of the ruling party, and a war veteran in his right did not attend Cde Kathrada’s memorial service, and instead sent a condolence message through the Presidency directing that Deputy President Ramaphosa would represent government at the highest level.

According to media reports, President Zuma wanted to respect the wishes of the deceased’s family that he should not attend.

Instead, he sent his condolence message that read: “The nation has lost one of its valuable and most respected freedom fighters, Isithwalandwe, Mr Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, one of the accused of the famous Rivonia Treason Trial.

“The passing of Mr Kathrada is a monumental loss not only to his family but to all South Africans as he was one of the fearless and dedicated architects of the free and democratic South Africa.

“He sacrificed his personal freedom and persevered through hardships for the liberation of all South Africa and to create a democratic, non-racial, peaceful and prosperous South Africa.”

When word was doing the rounds that President Zuma was not going to attend the memorial service, we are told that the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation made last minute efforts to clarify and say that everyone was welcome.

But it was too late, because the damage had already been inflicted, and the impact of this move will be felt within the ANC ranks for a very long time. It was a move that disregarded where the ANC was coming from, the challenges it faced, and how it always managed to prevail.

We also thank them for giving us that free lesson that it is so easy to let go of revolutionary principles, in order to send each other a few tweets, laugh out loud (lol), but in the process not changing anything.

News24 reported that as it turned out, President Zuma’s absence from the memorial service was a boon as it made him the “elephant in the room”.

The service gave the people opposed to President Zuma to freely express themselves, with some of them sounding like they had joined Julius Malema’s EFF. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s eulogy set the ball rolling, eventually transforming a funeral service into an anti-Zuma parody.

“Today is the day on which we close the eyes of Comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours forever and saved us from the blindness of the heart … It would be disingenuous to pay tribute to the life of Comrade Ahmed Kathrada and pretend that he was not deeply disturbed by the current post-apartheid failure of politics.

“In this regard we need not put words into his mouth post facto or post-humously; since, true to his consistent principles, he penned a public letter to the President of our country in which he gave vent to his views about the state in which our nation finds itself … Three hundred and fifty-four days ago today, Comrade Kathrada wrote this letter to which a reply had not been forthcoming. As you are aware his letter went without any formal reply. ”

Playing to the gallery obviously, but what was it supposed to achieve?

Were people expecting to hear that President Zuma had resigned after Cde Kathrada’s letter, which is already in the public domain, had been read at the funeral service?

It is also ironic that while Mandela’s death managed to unite people (for a short period as it turns out), the unity carved out at his Robben Island compatriot’s funeral service does not bode well for South Africa.

How sad, for vultures that have been circling around the region are now more than ever determined to continue.

We just hope that some wise doyens within the ANC will be able to cool off a lot of heads and ensure that South Africa does not repeat what happened under the Thabo Mbeki presidency when he was recalled.

It does not matter who was the architect, but the bottom line is that it was a dangerous precedent for a young democracy like South Africa, and the Southern African region as well.

It was also an unfortunate precedent that is affecting former liberation movements. South Africa has mediated in a number of conflicts on the continent, and these are lessons they can use in internal conflict resolutions, and not resolve issues at a funeral service.

Meanwhile, Agenda 2063 beckons. Rest in peace Cde Kathrada!

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