Cape Town - Struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada died on Tuesday morning at the age of 87.
In April 2016 Kathrada wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma appealing to him step down, saying his “continued stay as president will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country”.
In the letter to Zuma, Kathrada, who was among the eight accused sentenced to life imprisonment in the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial, said “in all these years it never occurred to me that the time would come when I would feel obliged to express my concerns to the honourable president”.
“President. It is, therefore, painful for me to write this letter to you. I have been a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC and broader congress movement since the 1940s.
“I have always maintained a position of not speaking out publicly about any differences I may harbour against my leaders and my organisation, the ANC. I would only have done so when I thought that some important organisational matters compel me to raise my concerns. Today I have decided to break with that tradition.
“The position of president is one that must at all times unite this country behind a vision and programme that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans. It is a position that requires the respect of all South Africans, which of course must be earned at all times.
“I did not speak out against Nkandla although I thought it wrong to have spent public money for any president's private comfort. I did not speak out though I felt it grossly insulting when my president is called a 'thief' or a 'rapist'; or when he is accused of being 'under the influence of the Guptas'. I believed that the NEC [national executive committee] would have dealt with this as the collective leadership of the ANC.
“When I learnt of the dismissal of [former finance] minister [Nhlanhla] Nene and the speculated reasons for this I became very worried. I'm fully aware it is accepted practice that the appointment and dismissal of ministers is the prerogative of the president. “This might be technically correct but in my view it is against the best traditions of our movement. My concern was amplified when it emerged that the deputy finance minister reported that he was offered the finance minister post by members of the Gupta family. “The people's interest must at all times remain supreme. In this instance it was clearly not the case. The resultant crisis that the country was plunged into was clearly an indication that the removal of the minister was not about the interests of the people.
“The unanimous ruling of the Constitutional Court on the Nkandla matter has placed me in an introspective mode and I had to ask myself some very serious and difficult questions.
“Now that the court has found that the president failed to uphold, defend, and respect the Constitution as the supreme law, how should I relate to my president?
“If we are to continue to be guided by growing public opinion and the need to do the right thing, would he not seriously consider stepping down? I am not a political analyst, but I am now driven to ask: 'Dear comrade president, don't you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?'
“And bluntly, if not arrogantly; in the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down?
“If not, comrade president, are you aware that your outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle stands to be severely tarnished if the remainder of your term as president continues to be dogged by crises and a growing public loss of confidence in the ANC and government as a whole.
“I know that if I were in the president's shoes, I would step down with immediate effect. I believe that is what would help the country to find its way out of a path that it never imagined it would be on, but one that it must move out of soon.
“To paraphrase the famous MK slogan of the time, 'There comes a time in the life of every nation when it must chose to submit or fight'. Today I appeal to our president to submit to the will of the people and resign,” Kathrada wrote.
Kathrada was involved in the activities of the African National Congress, the SA Indian Congress, the SA Communist Party, and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) even before the ANC opened its membership to non-Africans in 1969. In the Defiance Campaign Trial of 1952, he was among the 20 accused who were sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years. In the Treason Trial of 1956-1961, of the original 156 accused, he was among the last 30 who were finally acquitted in 1961. In the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial, he was among the eight accused sentenced to life imprisonment. Kathrada was released in 1989, together with Walter Sisulu and others, four months before the release of former president Nelson Mandela.