Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral at West Park Cemetery was more than just a goodbye

Ahmed Kathrada's coffin.


South Africans from all walks of life gathered at the West Park Cemetery on 29 March for the final send-off of anti-apartheid struggle icon and veteran, Ahmed Kathrada.

Cabinet ministers, former presidents, MECs and leaders of different political parties joined the masses to pay their last respects.

Mourners say final prayers at Ahmed Kathrada’s grave.

Hailed as one of the best activist and leaders that the country had, all speakers who paid tribute to Kathrada remembered him for his ethical standing. Secretary-general of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe said Kathrada was a remarkable person. “Comrade Kathy [Kathrada] had a very rare combination,” he said. “He had wisdom and humility. This is a rare combination because some people, if they have wisdom, you will find that they arrogant,” adding that Kathrada was an incorruptible person both in politics and his personal life.

Laloo Chiba, a long time friend and comrade of Ahmed Kathrada delivers his tribute.

Mantashe added that Kathrada was an honest man who would never betray anyone. “He would never stab you in the back or deceive you. You always knew where you stood with him. His words were hurtful at times but they were always honest.”

Health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi at the funeral of Ahmed Kathrada.

Higher education minister, Blade Nzimande also paid tribute on behalf of the South African Communist Party. Nzimande said it was unfortunate that Kathrada had passed away at a time in the country when his wisdom was much needed.

George Bizos at Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral.

Cosatu’s general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali gave a stern warning to political party leaders. He reiterated words that were once said by Kathrada, that leaders were not the organisation. “Leaders come and go but the organisation will remain,” he said.

Read VIDEO: Moving tributes for the gentle giant – Kathrada

The funeral reached a climax when former president, Kaglema Motlanthe delivered the eulogy. Motlanthe pointed out that Kathrada was deeply concerned about the current failures of post-apartheid politics. “Comrade Kathy himself deemed a critique of current democratic government a pre-condition for the sustenance of our democracy,” he said. “For him, the mainspring of cultured politics constitutes the practice of truth-telling, honesty, sincerity and unambiguous critical dialogue.”

Motlanthe concluded his speech by reading an excerpt from Kathrada’s letter which he wrote to President Jacob Zuma, asking him to step down.

Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Below is the excerpt of the letter:

‘I have always maintained a position of not speaking out publicly about any difference 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.

Basic education minister, Angie Motshekga with the former ANC treasurer general, Mathews Phosa.

‘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.

ANC veteran Sophie de Bruyn with higher education minister, Blade Nzimande.

‘And bluntly, if not arrogantly, in the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down.’

Motlanthe highlighted that Kathrada wrote the letter last year to which Zuma had not replied to by the time of Kathrada’s death.

Belinda Pheto

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