A teary??goodbye

2014-03-17 10:00

Few of our leaders have the humanity and humility of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

I was not at all surprised when it was reported that outgoing Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe shed a tear during his final speech in Parliament on Tuesday night.

Of all the political leaders I know, Motlanthe has a tendency to shed tears rather readily in moments of grief and sadness.

Such poignant moments easily tug at his heartstrings and reveal a vulnerable softness not characteristic of leaders in the rough, tough, hurly-burly world of politics.

There are, no doubt, many other gentle and humane politicians – even in the ANC?–?whom I know and have interviewed, but nobody quite as sensitive as Motlanthe.

His final speech must surely have been a most poignant moment of reflection, but I think the tears came inexorably also because of the abiding theme of his speech?–?his appeal to fellow leaders to place the constitutional service they are supposed to personify and embody first, and not their personal interests.

I have seen him talk with great sadness many times, displaying regret and a quiet emotion about how the cancer of self-interest, greed and corruption among our politicians – so often reported in the media?–?has consumed so many at all levels of government.

A few times, I can even recall a tear or two in his eye when we spoke of the devastating and heartbreaking poverty in black communities.

There have been times he was so overcome by emotion he had great difficulty completing his speeches, especially at funerals.

It happened at the funeral of his best friend and comrade, Stan Nkosi, who passed away in 2008; and that of a National Union of Mineworkers’ shop steward who was killed by fellow miners while he was the union’s general secretary.

There were several times in the course of the interviews I conducted with him for his biography that I recall very tender moments when I could see his eyes misting over.

Sometimes he would say, at such moments, that the tearfulness was a result of eye problems he suffered as a result of the time he spent on Robben Island.

But I felt that sometimes it was more the result of how sad he was feeling.

I also think it was his deep, abiding and consistent humanity and especially humility –?that remained evident throughout the eight-month period between 2008 and 2009 when he was president of our country – which characteristically disposes him to shedding tears when he is deeply unhappy.

Motlanthe thereby admirably dispatches and dismisses the conventional and deeply conservative, sexist and retrogressive notion that it is unmanly to shed tears which is embodied in the male chauvinistic saying: “Tigers don’t cry.”

No, his tears are an act of liberation and celebration, and a shining example of what it means to be truly human in a nasty and brutal male-dominated world.

Harvey is an independent writer and Motlanthe’s biographer

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