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#Kathrada: Standing ovation for Motlanthe's eulogy

Published Mar 29, 2017

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Johannesburg – Ahmed Kathrada's letter to President Jacob Zuma urging him to step down evoked strong feelings yet again at the late struggle icon's funeral on Wednesday afternoon.

A portion of the contents of the letter was read out by former president and member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Kgalema Motlanthe as part of his eulogy to Kathrada.

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Those in attendance gave a standing ovation as Motlanthe reiterated Kathrada's final words to Zuma in which he said: "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....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."

Motlanthe said it is on a day like this we should not mince words. We should say it as it is.

He added among other things that Kathrada's life radiated the idea that the country has the ability to create a new form of life, a life of non-racialism.

While some former ANC leaders stood, most cabinet ministers remained seated. During Motlanthe's speech the words "Phantsi ngo Zuma" could be heard.

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Picture: Noni Mokati/Independdent Media

Kathrada Foundation director Neeshan Balton also asked Pravin Gordhan to stand up, saying irrespective of whether he remains finance minister in the days to come, "you remain true to the values and principles that Kathrada would be proud of".

Kathrada's long-time friend and struggle veteran Sophie Williams de Bruyn earlier on Wednesday remembered Kathrada as an all-round activist who was respectfully outspoken, resourceful and kind.

De Bruyn said that she had known "Uncle Kathy" for more than half a century, and in all that time Kathrada had remained true to who he was. "I met comrade Kathy many years ago, in the early 50s. I met him at a fundraising party and he could not dance, but loved dancing. We remained friends from that time until now," De Bruyn said.

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"We have shared many precious times together work-wise. Comrade Kathy had special qualities of his organising skills. He had these many skills, and yet the ability to move around and engage with the giants of that time which were Chief Albert Luthuli, JB Marks, and others, and was far younger than them but was easy in their company and they accepted him."

De Bruyn went on to elaborate how Kathrada had assisted in setting up and mobilising for the Coloured Congress in Johannesburg since it was weak in that part of the country compared to Cape Town.

She also mentioned how Kathrada was "very instrumental" in mobilising the men's support for the [1956] Women's March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria which was staged to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act.

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De Bruyn also said Kathrada showed his kindness in many ways, one which she recalled was how he assisted by speaking to Helen Joseph to arrange with the cooks at Medical Aid Society to keep a plate of food for them because the Coloured Congress had little money to even buy food.

"Each of us in our own way, felt every time that we get together and engage with him, we find this greatness in him and this comfort to be with him," de Bruyn said.

"The other quality I remember about Kathy is his uniqueness of speaking, what they so famously call today, truth to power. Even during those days, he would not hesitate to come forward and speak. I remember Kathy to have been outspoken. But when he even criticised or pointed out the wrongs, or certain things that he did not agree with, he would do so in a respectful way."

Kathrada passed away aged 87 early on Tuesday at Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg after a short illness following brain surgery.

Zuma declared a “special official funeral” for the late Rivonia Treason Triallist, to be held on Wednesday in accordance with Muslim religious rites.

A prayer session was given shortly before Kathrada was lowered into his grave.

As per religion customs, men were asked to stand on one side while women stood in another section.

Kgalema Motlanthe, David Makhura and other politicians were asked to join Telford leaders in leading the coffin to the grave.

Political Bureau and African News Agency

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