The Raj’s party lives on

2011-12-30 00:00

AMICHAND Rajbansi’s widow last night vowed that her husband’s party would not go to the grave with him and that his political legacy would live on.

In an interview with eNews, Shameen Rajbansi rejected the view held by some pundits that the Minority Front would not survive without her charismatic husband at its helm.

The husband-and-wife team were the MF’s two MPLs in the KZN Legislature, and the party has a sole MP in the National Assembly and several local councillors.

Just a day earlier, with her husband in the Umhlanga Hospital intensive care unit, Sharmeen Rajbansi reportedly poured scorn on talk that she was not coping with leading the party in his absence. She told the Daily News “everyone continues with their respective duties”.

“By the way, we are also on recess. So we are fine in the MF.”

Emotions ran high at the Raj­bansis’ Chatsworth home yesterday as relatives, friends and politicians descended to offer their condolences.

They included MF councillors, a representative from the Indian Consulate, Harsh Vardhan Singh Negi, and the chaplain from the Premier’s office, the Reverend Cleopas Mkhize. Rajbansi’s six children, four daughters and two sons, arrived later.

Shameen Rajbansi told reporters camped outside her home that her 69-year-old husband’s condition deteriorated in the early hours of yesterday morning. He died at about 10.10 am.

“We as the family are deeply saddened that Mr Rajbansi left us so suddenly in the two months of his admission to hospital. This has left a huge void not only in the family but also in the MF. I’d like to thank everyone who supported us throughout this period with prayers and messages wishing him well.”

Neighbours and politicians described Rajbansi as a people’s person who was always close to the poor. MF MP Royith Bhoola said everyone in the party was suffering emotional pain and sorrow.

Rajbansi was a great leader and his death was a loss to the entire Indian community, he said.

“Mr Rajbansi has always believed that the Indian community was treated as second-class citizens and their rights were marginalised. This was his belief till the last day of his life.”

On the MF’s future, Bhoola said: “Mr Rajbansi had undoubtedly instilled the correct values, morals and principles to party members, preparing them to be responsible, respectful and dignified future leaders.”

A neighbour, who would only identify herself as N. Maistry, said Rajbansi was a good person who helped whenever he could.

“I’ve known him for more than 40 years and he did a lot of charity work in the community, including helping the old-age home. Our children grew up together. It is sad to lose someone like him,” said Maistry.

More tributes poured in, including some from his political foes. Former KZN premier S’bu Ndebele, in whose provincial cabinet Rajbansi served as Sport MEC, praised the MF leader’s contribution.

“South Africa is better for the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party and MF working together in this province.”

By aligning himself with the ANC during the provincial constitution-making process, Rajbansi, with his single casting vote, had been able to force the IFP to give substantial ground to the ANC and the constitution was eventually approved.

IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi described Rajbansi as “one of South Africa’s political giants” and a “true patriot”.

“His deep commitment to deepening and consolidating our democracy cannot be questioned. He was a man with firm beliefs, who was never afraid to take a stand.”

The ANC nationally and provincially also paid tribute to Rajbansi, with ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu saying the MF leader “was known for his near obsession on community issues and issues affecting minorities”.

“It was under his leadership that the ANC entered into a coalition in KZN when we could not muster the majority votes. This distinguished him as a practical leader, but also as someone open-minded.”

The Democratic Alliance, which Rajbansi fought tooth and nail for the hearts and minds of the minority Indian vote in KZN, also offered its condolences. “Mr Rajbansi was a renowned politician … He was one of the people who introduced the idea of coalition politics to South Africa by strategically aligning his party with others to achieve his objectives,” said DA leader Helen Zille.

eThekwini Mayor James Nxumalo and the city’s outgoing municipal manager, Mike Sutcliffe, joined in the praise.

Nxumalo said Rajbansi was one of the early pioneers of the country’s democracy, while Sutcliffe noted: “We’ve lost a real tiger, not a chihuahua.”

eThekwini deputy city manager Derek Naidoo, who received amnesty after being jailed for his role in bombing Rajbansi’s home in the 1980s, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The KZN Cricket Union and the KZN Legislature also issued statements.

Political analyst Kiru Naidoo, who shared many a radio debate with Rajbansi, described him as a “likeable maverick who played both the apartheid and democratic system like a political pro”.

Rajbansi had an uncanny appeal within the Indian community, he said.

“He spoke the language of the township poor and was able to stay relevant in spite of ethnic politics being out of vogue. He steadily reinvented himself several times during the democratic transition.”

Rajbansi’s funeral will take place at the Chatsworth Stadium tomorrow from 11 am to 4 pm, and mourners will proceed to the Claire Estate crematorium.

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