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Tshwane - The violence witnessed in the North West province this week can only serve the interests of sections of society opposed to transformation in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.

Delivering his eulogy in Pretoria at the funeral of African National Congress stalwart and former cabinet minister Zola Skweyiya, Ramaphosa bemoaned the massive violence which rocked the North West, characterised by looting and clashes between police and community members.

“We can be certain that Zola Skweyiya would have been concerned about the violent protests that have seized the North West in the last few days. Like the violence that he confronted in the early 1990s, such violence can only serve the interests of those opposed to transformation and the progress of our people,” Ramaphosa told mourners at the special official funeral.

The coffin of Zola Skweyiya at CRC Church in Lynnwood, Pretoria. Picture: Bongani Shilibane/African News Agency (ANA)

“In the memory of our distinguished stalwart, we need to unite and resist those who wish to delay our march to economic freedom for all our people, and to render the best service to our people. That is what Bhuti Zola would have wanted to see. To throw away the rule of law, and to disregard the Constitution because our differences fall into the trap of the enemies of change is not the way to go.”

READ: President Ramaphosa's eulogy delivered at #ZolaSkweyiyaFuneral

Ramaphosa appealed to leaders in different spheres to give an ear to grievances of communities, and pay attention to people’s needs.

“As leaders, let us follow the example that Bhuti Zola showed us by ensuring that we do give due care to the interests of our people. Like Zola Skweyiya, we must listen to our people. We must put the people first,” said Ramaphosa.

Picture: Bongani Shilibane/African News Agency (ANA)

The capital of the North West, Mahikeng, has been shut down amid widespread looting and public violence since Wednesday as calls for embattled premier Supra Mahumapelo to resign grow louder. Streets have been trashed and buildings and vehicles torched, while the unrest has spread to other towns in the North West. Ramaphosa cut short his visit to the United Kingdom to attend to the violent protests in the North West. 

Earlier, Ramaphosa paid tribute to Skweyiya as an outstanding ambassador of goodwill and a servant of his people, saluting democratic South Africa's first public service and administration minister as a humble leader, gifted with moral clarity.

"An ambassador of goodwill, a servant of his people, and a courageous son of our soil has departed. When we recall the consummate love, grace, and humility of Zola Skweyiya we are reminded of the immeasurable capacity of human beings for goodness," said Ramaphosa.

"In a world that is riven by conflict and greed we were comforted to have living among us a person like Zola Skweyiya. We were heartened by his moral clarity and by his steadfast commitment to democracy, justice, and peace."

Skweyiya "was a noble man who would never dare sell the birthright of his people; a man who would choose death rather than betray the trust of his people". Although Skweyiya had departed this world, South Africans would continue to draw strength and inspiration from his example.

Picture: Bongani Shilibane/African News Agency (ANA)

"As we fold the flag that now covers him, we will commend his spirit to the founding fathers and mothers of our nation and hand over the work of his hand to his family and future generations as a symbol of honour to his service and love for [his] country," Ramaphosa said.

Skweyiya died at the age of 75 on April 11. He was public service and administration minister from 1994 to 1999 and social development minister from 1999 to 2009, before he was appointed South Africa’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Ramaphosa said that since the day Skweyiya died, there had been "an outpouring of grief and expressions of admiration from many South Africans and from people across the world".

Skweyiya is survived by his wife, former ambassador Thuthukile Skweyiya, three sons - Vuyo, Khethaukuthula, and Vukani - two daughters - Phila and Mandisa - and 12 grandchildren.

Former president Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele were among numerous high profile mourners at the funeral.

African News Agency/ANA