Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during the funeral service for Ahmed Kathrada, a fellow Robben Island prisoner of her former husband Nelson Mandela, at Westpark Cemetery in Joburg. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma might have recused himself from attending Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral on Wednesday but he seemed the omnipresent figure, with his leadership brought under further scrutiny.

The overriding message at Kathrada’s funeral service at Westpark Cemetery was for Zuma to heed calls for him to step down.

This came amid speculation swirling of an impending cabinet reshuffle mainly targeted at Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas.

But it was a seething letter written a year ago by Kathrada that brought home renewed calls for Zuma to resign.

Reading his eulogy on Kathrada at the cemetery, where a coalition of the wounded converged on the ANC stalwart’s funeral, former president Kgalema Motlanthe received a rapturous standing ovation when he repeated Kathrada’s call for Zuma to leave office.

Uncle Kathy, as Kathrada was affectionately called, wrote to Zuma imploring him to submit to the will of the people and resign as news of his decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister emerged.

At the time, Kathrada’s partner Barbara Hogan, a former minister of health and of public enterprises, called on ANC members to “bombard Luthuli House with the message that Zuma must go”, adding “this man is creating economic sabotage”.

Motlanthe minced no words as he spoke of the late leader’s character of standing for what he believed in.

“Three hundred and fifty four days ago, comrade Kathrada wrote this letter, to which a reply has not been forthcoming.

“As you are aware, his letter went without any formal reply I have quoted comrade Kathy at length to make the point that for better or for worse, what he stood for never changed according to the fluidities of history.

“Comrade Kathy took exception to the current culture of sordid feeding frenzy, moral corruption, societal depravity, political dissolution as well as the post-colonial culture of grossness and sleaze that would put to shame even some of the vilest political orders known to human history.”

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was seated next to EFF leader Julius Malema, could be seen clapping and smiling when Motlanthe repeated Kathrada’s call for Zuma to step down.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi was seen clapping in glee as hundreds of mourners rose to their feet and cheered Motlanthe on. One shouted: “Yes, South Africa, stand up!” Another said: “Phansi ngo Zuma!”.

Malema, who has been calling on Zuma to step down since his expulsion from the ANC in 2012, told The Star that the EFF was happy the Kathrada family had honoured Uncle Kathy’s wish for Zuma not to attend the service.

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation chief executive Neeshan Balton painstakingly pointed out that no one had been excluded from attending the funeral, saying “no one was sent an invite”.

The Presidency had earlier confirmed Zuma would not attend the funeral and memorial service in compliance with the family’s wishes.

This is the second prominent ANC family to bar Zuma from attending a funeral service. Former sports minister Makhenkesi Stofile, who also served as the South African ambassador to Germany, instructed his family on his deathbed that Zuma should not attend his funeral held in Eastern Cape last year.

In an unexpected move, Balton called on Gordhan to stand up and said to loud applause: “Irrespective of whether you remain minister in the days or weeks to come, you remain true to the values and principles that Kathrada would be proud of.”

An emotional Gordhan wiped his eyes with a tissue. He has been identified as among ministers Zuma wanted to axe during his expected cabinet reshuffle.

When asked what he made of Balton’s comments about him, Gordhan told eNCA that he was honoured.

While plenty of ANC stalwarts have expressed their dismay for the manner in which the ruling party has degenerated and lost its moral compass, in his tribute Gauteng Premier David Makhura implored veterans to continue guiding the movement.

Kathrada’s funeral service was attended by key political figures known to be opposed to Zuma’s leadership of the country and the ANC. They included former Mpumalanga premier Mathews Phosa and former Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi, who in 2015 was expelled from the union federation, an alliance partner of the ANC.

Former president Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele as well as the last two living Rivonia Trial accused, Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni, also attended the funeral. So did former AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

They listened as veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos addressed the service.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande said Kathrada was part of a generation that was ahead of its time, adding it was unfortunate that he left the ANC at a time when the party desperately needed his wisdom.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said Kathrada was incorruptible, not only in politics but in his personal life. “He was a man you knew would never let you down.”

Anti-apartheid activist Sophia Williams-De Bruyn said Kathrada had played an instrumental role in the 1956 Women’s March.

In his parting words, Kathrada declared his love for Hogan, who the foundation and his family have asked to continue highlighting the values and love for the country that she and Kathrada shared. - Additional reporting by Luyolo Mkentane

The Star