Zuma strikes reconciliatory note at cemetery

2012-04-20 00:00

THE grass was cut at Mountain Rise cemetery and the pathways cleared for President Jacob Zuma’s historic visit to the gravesite of the ANC’s fourth president ,Josiah Tshangana Gumede (1927-1930), yesterday morning.

Zuma struck a reconciliatory note, an opening offered to him when ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala sang Hamba Kahle Mkhonto. Instead of singing a line about killing the enemy, Zikalala changed the words to, “We as the soldiers of uMkhonto weSizwe we are prepared to reconcile with the boers”.

ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete picked up on this, saying she once suggested changing some of the struggle songs and was met with heated opposition.

Zuma said there needed to be debate as the ANC could not sing a song about fighting the enemy when we are all sitting together now.

“There is no need for certain people to feel unwelcome in their country. We need to include everyone,” he said.

Later in the afternoon, before he presented the Josiah Gumede memorial centenary lecture, Zuma asked the audience to bear with him as he needed to clarify something.

He said he was shocked to hear on the radio that he had opened the debate on freedom songs. “I thought this was unjust, I was referring to one song that had just been sung.” he said

Early morning Maritzburg traffic was brought to a standstill as VIP cavalcades transporting mayors, members of the provincial and national parliaments and other dignitaries made their way to the cemetery.

The place was teeming with police and security personnel and helicopters criss-crossed overhead.

The occasion was part of the ANC’s centenary celebrations. Surprisingly, many ANC members were not aware that Gumede had lived most of his life in Pietermaritzburg and that he was buried here.

The cemetery, which has come under criticism for its overgrown and derelict state, looked much improved after extensive grasscutting around Gumede’s gravesite and the route of the presidential entourage. Many guests said they hoped that having an ANC president buried at Mountain Rise would encourage the municipality to treat it as a historical site and spruce it up.

Guests of honour at the event were the Gumede family, including the only remaining members of the family who still live in the city and reside in Woodlands. Other family members came from Bergville and Durban.

Zikalala noted that there were three generations of the Gumedes who were part of the ANC: Gumede, who was the fourth of the 12 ANC presidents; his son Archie, a leading anti-apartheid activist; and his grandson Donald, an ANC Member of Parliament. Donald said that as he stood by his grandfather’s grave with the ANC centenary flame burning close by, he felt proud to be part of a family that had contributed to the struggle for freedom of the country.

Later in Durban, Zuma paid tribute to Archbishop Denis Hurley and said the church had a role in helping the country succeed.

In the centenary lecture at the University of KZN, Zuma told Gumede’s life story.

A lesser known leader, he is recognised for wanting the organisation to be less elitist and include the working class.

He advocated for stronger links with the Communist Party, a position not welcomed by the conservatives in the movement.

Zuma pointed out that Gumede remained an active member of ANC after he lost the presidency.

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