AHMED KATHRADA MEMORIAL TRIBUTE
In a country with a history like ours, of drama after drama, one should always think twice before declaring the next drama as a crisis. Over time the word ‘crisis’ can lose the urgency in it.
That is why we also need to be brave and honest enough to utter such words when they are truly called for. Right now we are in such a moment. And here is what it means for me: “ a time of great disagreement, confusion, and suffering.”
There is no doubt that South Africa, our beloved constitutional democracy, barely into its third decade, is at this moment caught in the grip of a deep political and moral crisis. The respective components of that crisis are two: power and greed.
This crisis is by no means the first one since the defeat of the loathed apartheid system, but it is deeply serious. Ahmed Kathrada, that great, quiet reflective man of deep conviction and compassion recognised this moment as such: a crisis.
Do we as citizens understand what integrity and courage it took for him to write an open letter calling on the leader of his political nursery and lifetime home, the ANC, to step down in order to stop shaming its proud history as the oldest and arguably most admirable liberation movement on the African continent?
At a time like this we look for direction. We look for points of convergence; for coherence; for a place of understanding and knowing of who we are. Here is who we have become.
Over the last one hundred and fifty years in the evolution of South African capitalism, we were conquered, dispossessed, dismembered from family, community, and tribe and then dispersed across the land as unprotected labour in the mines, factories, farms, and homes of our European conquerors.
Then in 1912 we regrouped in Bloemfontein to commit to a solidarity of the oppressed; a solidarity that held on for close to one hundred years. Over that time we came together to experience and exchange one another’s languages, cultures, customs, and traditions, and intermarried heavily, such that we could walk into one another’s worlds and feel at home whether in Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, and Western Cape. Everywhere became a space of belonging.
That was not enough. This space of belonging, forged out of the hot depths of the land underground, in the smoldering, melted iron and gold, triggered vast human movements from across the entire Southern African landscape. People came from Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique; Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland and over time became a part of us. Others came from far beyond the seas: India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, and others. Their sense of self-definition over time came to include who they experienced us to be.
We all became of this land out of an unprecedented transformation of human beings from one state of being into another. And thus it was that we evolved into a people with a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-lingual sensibility open to one another with a democratic, open-minded outlook. It is an achievement of historic proportions. This is who we have become. It is this that should at this time of crisis give further strength to our unity, to our collective sense of purpose, and to our steadfastness.
That is why we cannot give up who we have become: cannot give up our hard-won non-racial, non-sexist, and non-ethic convictions in a constitutional democracy: cannot give up all of that into the hands of to a subversive system of criminal, syndicated government.
A viral system of criminal, syndicated government, organized to simulate formal legitimacy while being underscored by an undisclosed, undeclared intention to defraud the state through willful disregard of constitutional due process, is a beast that can swallow us all to oblivion. It should never be allowed to move into its next stage and consolidate itself into a horrible, compulsive system of state repression.
It is the prospect of this horrible possibility that must have pained Ahmed Kathrada almost beyond description. It is this kind of dark project, unbearable to contemplate, against which Madiba was willing to lay down his life.
And so it falls to us inheritors of an evolved state of nationhood, with decades of collective investment, to do everything we can to protect our social and political achievement and safeguard the future of our country and all its future generations.
In this we have to be citizens worthy of Ahmed Kathrada. We have to be worthy of that incorruptible man, who sat for countless unremunerated hours at board meetings of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, of which I am privileged to be Chair. He sat for days, year after year for more than a decade, helping to select Mandela Rhodes Scholars. He believed completely in the new generations of young African leaders. And they were in open-mouthed awe at meeting him: something always wonderful to watch.
So now there is a challenge of conscience I want to put before you. It is a challenge to the Members of Parliament sitting in Parliament today, and the Ministers and Deputy Ministers just sworn in. It is a challenge I put from the responsibility and accountability I feel to be part of legacy of Nelson Mandela that drives the work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation: it is never to give up on any human being.
It is in this context that we ask the MPs; we ask the new ministers, and deputy-ministers: is it worth it for you personally, for your families, relatives, friends and comrades of many years who will see betrayal in the terrible choices you have made? If South Africans in their millions are not prepared to give up what they have become in history, are you?
Think about it: you who suddenly emerged into the light from a list put together in dark depths of secrecy.
We all want this beloved country, and all of its people to prosper. Let us be brave in honour of that intention. Let us all do the right thing that is required of each of us in these difficult moments. We should never have to regret them for our inaction and failures of courage.
Njabulo S Ndebele
Chairman: Nelson Mandela Foundation
1 April, 2017