Johannesburg - Tributes poured in for the former president of the PAC and struggle icon Clarence Makwetu, who died on Friday at Queenstown Private Hospital in the Eastern Cape at the age of 88.
President Jacob Zuma was among those who extended their condolences to Makwetu's family.
Zuma said the nation had lost one of its true stalwarts and freedom fighters.
“We therefore wish to convey our deepest condolences to his family and his organisation, the PAC. May his soul rest in peace,” said Zuma.
In 1994, Makwetu led the PAC to the country's first democratic Parliament. In the Assembly, he was radical about the issue of land redistribution, which haunts the country to this day.
The former ANC Youth League member defected to the PAC when it was formed by Robert Sobukwe in 1959. In 1963, he was charged with furthering the aims of a banned organisation, the PAC. He was subsequently sentenced to five years' imprisonment on Robben Island and released in 1968. A fellow Robben Islander, Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC liberation activist, sang the praises of Makwetu, saying his influence and admiration went beyond his party.
“He was widely respected across the political divide because of his discipline. He was one man I could talk politics to without the fear of being insulted,” he said.
Recounting the time he spent with Makwetu on Robben Island, Kathrada said: “He came after us in jail and we were all stunned by his conduct. He always preached unity, which was contrary to what the other PAC guys wanted.”
It was Makwetu and Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president, who initiated the peace talks amid the height of political intolerance just after 1994. Kathrada believes their talks would have yielded positive results if the PAC had not expelled him from the party for bringing the party into disrepute. For his contribution to the Struggle, Makwetu was awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver by the Presidency. Another Robben Islander and ANC stalwart, Andrew Mlangeni, likened Makwetu to a “giant in South African politics”.
Mlangeni said Makwetu was a disciplined cadre who always placed the aspirations of poor people first.
“It's sad to lose a person like him but he fought his battle and his time to rest had come. My condolences go to his family and his comrades,” he said.
Mlangeni said although they came from different parties, Makwetu was tolerant and his debate was always motivated by genuine issues.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation said it was with deep sadness that they learnt of Makwetu's death and offered condolences to the family.
Makwetu and Mandela were both in the B section on Robben Island.
PAC spokesman Kenneth Mokgatlhe said the death of Makwetu will dent the party amid the in-fighting which has resulted in factions.
However, he said, it was leaders like Makwetu who everyone who aspires to be a selfless leader must look up to. Mokgatlhe lauded Makwetu for his never-say-die approach, even when the tide was against him.
“He drove the PAC to be a powerful force during the struggle against apartheid and when he served as an MP in 1994,” he said.
The details of the funeral are yet to be confirmed. Mokgatlhe said they hoped Zuma would afford Makwetu a state funeral. Makwetu is survived by his wife Mandisa and their two sons.
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