Mondli Makhanya

Let’s emulate our icons

2017-04-02 08:17

One of the things that gives you goose bumps at ANC events is the mythology that surrounds you at the venue.

It is the songs of tribute to fallen icons. It is the celebration of military escapades of men such as Barney Molokoane, Vuyisile Mini, Solomon Mahlangu and Ting Ting Masango. It is the struggle iconography. You are transfixed by the legends who almost make eye contact with you from the portraits that decorate the walls – the presidents who have led the organisation from inception, the heroes who led demonstrations such as the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1956 Women’s March, and the masses who struggled and participated in militant action.

Somewhere in the venue will be pictures of the Rivonia Trialists, icons with whom we at least had the privilege of sharing South Africa after their release.

It breeds an incredible camaraderie that transcends party lines.

These are the reminders of a valour and courage that characterised the South African struggle for liberation. For a while, you are transported to a world of idealism and selflessness. You are taken to a world that tells you how special it is to be a South African, to share history and nationhood with leaders and ordinary men and women who were superspecial.

You are reminded that being South African is more than just an accident of having being born in this geographic area.

When we witness the looting and debauchery that our current leaders engage in, we forget that ours is a remarkable nation. We forget that the South African struggle was one of the most romantic revolutions of the past century, which is why the world was so inspired by it.

It made them more human

South African revolutionaries were idolised by the world because our struggle represented humanity’s highest ideals, and so the good people of the planet identified with it. It made them more human.

This is why Wednesday’s funeral of Ahmed Kathrada was such a special occasion. As the former Robben Islander looked out from the funeral posters and surveyed the crowds who had come to bid their final farewells, you could not but be overwhelmed by the ideals that he and his generation represented.

Besides the now-famous moment when former president Kgalema Motlanthe gave voice to his now quiet Comrade Kathy, the other goose bump moment was his tribute to leaders and heroes who have moved on.

“When mortality asserts itself, it does so without due regard to human emotion,” said Motlanthe, before reading out a roll call of “revolutionaries who have transitioned to the ages”.

He listed among them luminaries such as Abdullah Abdurahman, Sol Plaatje, Lillian Ngoyi, Bram Fischer, Helen Joseph, Dullar Omar, Nelson Mandela, Kader Asmal, Walter Sisulu, Harold Wolpe, Oliver Tambo, Elias Motsoaledi, Arthur Goldreich, Joe Slovo, Moses Kotane, Monty Naicker, Moses Mabhida, Amina Cachalia, Ruth First, Ahmed Timol, Raymond Mhlaba, JB Marks, Govan Mbeki, Yusuf Dadoo and Solomon Mahlangu.

“All these revolutionaries shared a common vision with him [Kathrada], a vision steeped in a transcendent notion of human possibility,” Motlanthe added.

The thing with funerals of stalwarts is that they remind us of the shortcomings of those of us they leave behind. They bring home the fact that when they stood next to us, we were midgets at the feet of towering mountains.

But most tragically, they remind us that we learn nothing from their illustrious lives.

When he delivered his eulogy at the funeral of Walter Sisulu in 2003, then president Thabo Mbeki spoke of the need to live up to and “to honour the teachings and the example” set by the great man, and to nurture and promote the interests of all South Africa’s citizens as his offspring, with none cast out as orphans.

“It is not in the outcomes, but in the blessings unbound, that gave us a Walter Sisulu, whose quiet voice and quiet ways and gentle touch gave our people the knowledge and conscience and conviction to do what is right, the impulse to create the outcomes that evoke pride and joy in all of us, and give us cause to dance in celebration of our humanity,” the lyrical and symphonic Mbeki said at the time.

This nation is a special place

Many more icons have left us since then and many promises have been made to keep their memory alive – not with statues, but through emulating their deeds.

But as soon as they were interred, South Africans went back to their wayward behaviour.

Before they passed on, many of these leaders left us with their precious wisdom. Govan Mbeki left us with his prison writings, Learning from Robben Island, republished two years ago.

Albert Luthuli speaks to us through his autobiography, Let My People Go. Walter Sisulu’s life is captured in the book, Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime, by Elinor Sisulu. We are fortunate that Luli Callinicos captured Oliver Tambo’s life in Beyond The Engeli Mountains.

Kathrada left us with plenty of conscience provokers, the last of which was Sahm Venter’s Conversations with a Gentle Soul. There are many more of these from which we can draw wisdoms.

So, we can either mythologise our heroes or learn to be a bit like them. The bottom line is, this nation is a special place. The icons whom we idolise through story and song were special people. Their DNA is still with us and we should not waste it. Neither should we waste the wisdom of those who are still with us.

Read more on:    anc  |  ahmed kathrada
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