Kgalema Motlanthe and Trevor Manuel embrace as both resign from Parliament. Picture: Courtney Africa

Kgalema Motlanthe and Trevor Manuel were servants of the masses who inspired the dream of a better tomorrow, writes Abe Mokoena.

Johannesburg - When I saw the two giants of our struggle, outgoing Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Planning Minister Trevor Manuel delivering their touching farewell speeches in Parliament last week, I recalled poet-activist Breyten Breytenbach’s famous expression, “the slow quickness of life”.

There is no doubt that many are attracted to the qualities of the two ANC leaders like iron to a magnet.

We have seen their revolutionary lives unfolding smoothly like some translucent stream which meanders through our African meadows, never lashed into anger by the treacherous rocks or violent currents.

We have observed that while most politicians throughout our continent pride themselves as masters of intrigue and power, the two leaders gave this nation hope that all has not crushed to the basement.

They are not only political darlings of the masses, but also servants of the people. Their intellect and passion for reason empowered us to hug dreams of a better tomorrow.

And while most leaders the world over choose to act like political hooligans by being cunning, malicious, viciously greedy, bad tempered and wanton, leaving in their wake appalling human misery, the two ANC stalwarts consciously decided to make themselves paragons of nation-building through their golden ideas, actions, matchless generosity of spirit, compassion and sensitivity.

They championed democracy because they cared and knew what it meant to be true democrats and showed the beautiful complexions of their personalities.

It is clear that they are tough and yet gentle, firm and friendly.

We have seen that they are witty but disciplined and visionary but accommodating to the views of everyone including those that differ with theirs.

The consuming passion in their discharge of duty is second to none. These men exude a sense of honour and dignity, a sense of grace and emotional balance as well as delightful and hardworking personality traits.

It is easy to discern that they belong to a generation that sought to create freedom and maintain it.

They truly symbolise the assertion made by Malawian President Joyce Banda at the funeral of Nelson Mandela:

“A great leader is the one who falls in love with the people he serves and who the people also fall in love with.”

As they served in our government they were never despotic or self-serving. And they displayed a vivid understanding of the material challenges of the masses.

They know that many of our people are still living in a fortress of hell, consigned to ignorance despite the fact that we are in the 20th year of political freedom.

They are aware of the unemployment rate that is torturing the masses, especially the youth. They know how a starving person with a Master’s degree feels when he applies for a job and is told he is overqualified. They know about the toil, poverty and hunger that daily torment our people, threatening to turn them into glorified slaves.

They never embraced the hypocrisy and prevention that characterise many global politicians.

We recall that former US president Thomas Jefferson was a staunch opponent of slavery, yet at the same time owned large numbers on his plantation in Virginia.

Motlanthe and Manuel opened our eyes to the reality of the perpetual empowerment of the powerful and continuous disempowerment of the powerless.

They planted seeds of wisdom in many of us about the importance of education, morality, courage, will power and creativity.

Above all these, they taught us that human simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. They used every minute of their time in government fruitfully as if they were with Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher king of the Roman Empire, when he opined:

“Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity. All things are insignificant, easily changed, vanishing away.”

It is pleasing that they are leaving the centre stage with their respect and dignity intact like the historical majestic kings of the soul who walked in the rugged clothes of filthy beggars.

We will forever remember them as practitioners of the timeless philosophy that one should do the right thing not to please people, but because it is the only logically reasonable thing to do as long as one is being honest with oneself.

They also personify the saying that “a stumble is only one step in the long path we walk and dwelling on it only postpones the complexion of our journey”.

Through their heroic silent deeds, most of us have learnt how not to become irrelevant in life.

They were midwives of our freedom’s birth and they untiringly nourished it for many years. And during all those years they strengthened our resolve on how not to rob ourselves of the future.

I hope they will continue to serve humanity with distinction wherever they will be deployed, for the centre stage is indeed not the only place where one can play a critical role in the lives of people.

It is through their exemplary leadership that many people still have faith in humankind. Theirs will always be a stunning universal story of humble political nobility which shaped the character and direction of our struggle and democracy. My fascination with them will forever be like that of a peasant’s sheer delight in discovering a fertile piece of earth in the village.

They remain the conscience of our nation and exemplify the creed that the honesty and integrity with which one lives and the beauty that results from a dedication to truth are what make a life meaningful.

I can speak with confidence that these two great leaders of the ANC will not end up on the wrong side of history.

Their names are already tattooed in Africa’s pantheon of political heroism. They should, as such, not be surprised that wherever they go people may swarm around them like moon circling a planet.

* Abe Mokoena is an independent commentator based in Polokwane.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers

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