Johannesburg - Like Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, the funeral of anti-apartheid activist Priscilla Mokaba became an emotionally-charged political platform after ANC leaders slated Economic Freedom Fighters leader and former youth league president Julius Malema.
Malema, who regarded Mokaba and her late son Peter, as his political guardian and mentor respectively, chose to stay away from the event for fear of sparking ructions as a result of friction with his erstwhile comrades.
Mokaba’s funeral was held at the University of Limpopo, outside Polokwane, yesterday.
ANC national executive committee member and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters – speaking on behalf of President Jacob Zuma – chided Malema for allegedly holding a celebration at Peter Mokaba’s grave while still league president, without first seeking his mother Priscilla’s permission.
Ironically, Malema has fashioned himself as Peter Mokaba’s political clone.
The fiery former ANC Youth League president Mokaba, who was deputy minister in Mandela’s executive, died in 2002.
“There was a time when MaMokaba was hurting when those who didn’t want to be corrected, those who have now gone to form their own organisation, went to celebrate Peter’s life at his grave, without informing her,” said Peters.
Without mentioning Malema by name, Peters said the late MaMokaba, as Priscilla was well known, regarded his behaviour as disrespectful to the ANC.
Another ANC provincial heavyweight Rosina Semenya, who co-directed the funeral service weighed in immediately after Peters had spoken.
When Semenya introduced Mzwandile Masina, the national convener of the ANC Youth League, she said: “(Peters) was not referring to (Masina), it’s that guy with the beret.”
The red beret is a signature cap for members of the EFF.
But the fiery Economic Freedom Fighters leader, whose absence was conspicuous, later hit back at Peters and Semenya when contacted for comment.
Malema denied he ever visited Peter’s grave without Priscilla’s knowledge and presence. “I am convinced (Peters and Semenya) are not referring to me, because if they do, they are just exposing their stupidity,” said Malema.
He argued that MaMokaba has never complained about his alleged disrespectful behaviour, adding that the “old woman” held a special place in his heart.
“MaMokaba came to my grandmother’s birthday party last year,” said Malema. He said he opted to keep the distance.
Malema said he anticipated the ANC would hijack the funeral, even though it had been made a government event after Zuma declared it a special provincial official funeral.
“They are so insecure; they feel threatened by other people’s presence. So I didn’t want to be a nuisance and a spoiler,” said Malema.
He said Priscilla’s daughter Mapula sent him a message to inform him about her mother’s death. “I will go to the family after the funeral to pay my respects,” said Malema.
ANC provincial spokesman Sipho Dikgale said the ANC did not ban Malema from the funeral.
“The funeral was not conducted by the ANC. It was a state funeral, as pronounced by the president meaning that government was running the funeral. All political parties in the government and representatives in the provincial legislature were welcome,” said Dikgale.
Asked if Malema would have been welcomed if he came, Dikgale said: “The government would have welcomed him. The ANC does not have any say on who gets invited.”
Commenting on Malema’s remarks that he stayed away to avoid conflict, Dikgale said: “We really dismiss that. The ANC is one political party that is disciplined. Who are we to cause trouble.”
At the funeral, Peters lauded MaMokaba for her role in the pursuit for freedom. Peters said political youth activists at the then University of Turfloop sought refuge at MaMokaba’s home.
“She was like a baobab or a fruit tree, from which we ate and found protection,” said Peters.
Peters chastised disgruntled ANC members who resorted to courts to lodge and settle their dissatisfaction with internal processes.
Party members who were unhappy with processes leading to ANC regional conferences in the Mopani and Peter Mokaba regions, took the ANC to court to contest the validity of those elective meetings. “We want to say to you, your actions are not befitting to Peter and MaMokaba’s organisation,” said Peters.
“For us to take forward MaMokaba’s legacy, we must ensure our organisation remain strong,” said Peters.
The funeral was attended by several ANC leaders including Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile, national secretary of the Young Communist League Buti Manamela and International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
The three former Limpopo premiers, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Sello Moloto and Cassel Mathale, were also present.
In an apparent show of unity, Mathale led the singing of a “revolutionary” struggle song to usher in his successor Stan Mathabatha to deliver his speech.
For the first time since his resignation as Limpopo premier, Mathale was publicly seen seated next to his successor and opponent Mathabatha.
Mathale resigned as premier in July after his faction fought fiercely with those who supported a second term for President Jacob Zuma.
The president placed most departments under administration and the ANC subsequently disbanded Mathale-led party provincial executive committee. Mathabatha spoke against factions and leadership preferences that are tearing the ANC in the province apart.
Interestingly, Mathabatha is expected to contest against Public Works MEC Dickson Masemola, for the provincial ANC chairmanship next month.
The premier said disciplined ANC members always rallied behind ideas that emerge from party branches.
“If they didn’t support your Stan, you must be the first one to support the new leadership, if you don’t do that you are weakening the ANC,” said Mathabatha.