Guest Column

Final open letter to a Rivonia Trialist

2017-04-02 07:49
Ahmed Kathrada (File, Netwerk24)

Ahmed Kathrada (File, Netwerk24)

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Kay Sexwale

Dear Uncle Kathy,

At a time like this, as many people are celebrating your life, it is worrying that you depart to join our ancestors while a shady captain remains at the helm of a ship that you pleaded with him to relinquish.

Our ship risks sinking because, as happened to the Titanic when it hit an iceberg, water is fast streaming in. In all of this, decisions taken by the captain are crucial for the passengers’ survival.

Today, we find that South Africa’s captain has outsourced his executive rights to a migrant family that tells him where to dock, how to throw the lifeboats overboard and what parts of the ship to deliberately destroy.

In a way, I’m glad you didn’t live to see the madness of Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle – done in the hours thieves operate: just past midnight. Incompetent scandal-ridden people have survived, while outspoken and hard-working people have been shown the door.

I have fond moments I spent with you that I will always treasure. Our first meeting was almost five years ago, after I penned an open letter to you and the other surviving Rivonia Trialists. It was a distress call, published in City Press, that later went viral. Former president Nelson Mandela was too ill to respond. Comrades Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg took their valuable time to engage with me via open letters. They urged me to be more directly involved in ANC branches and ANC work, and to try to change things from within, instead of only shouting as a public commentator.

That first and my subsequent visits with you took place when it was unfashionable to speak up about the rot that was seeping into our great movement, which I was born into in exile. I’m glad comrades have found their voices. As I told you then in my letter, I was fed ANC propaganda with my Purity baby food. I will continue to speak up – it’s important South Africans don’t think we are all sheep.

This final open letter to you is yet another opportunity to ask our fellow travellers, even those with smallernyana skeletons, to plug the holes that our captain has deliberately created.

Or, to put it in your words to the captain in your open letter to him on March 21 last year: “Are you aware that your outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle stands to be severely tarnished if the remainder of your term as president continues to be dogged by crises, and a growing public loss of confidence in the ANC and government as a whole?”

Sadly, he ignored you, but instead sent his Rottweilers to insult you, our beloved stalwart. On Wednesday at your funeral, some of these same captured people pretended to mourn you. They must hang their heads in shame. I’m glad the captain didn’t sully our final goodbye to you with his presence.

In your true style of unifying South Africans across the board, you offered to take the young leaders of two opposition parties, Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane, to Robben Island, where you were imprisoned for 26 years, so that they could truly appreciate the struggle of some of those known to have endured one of the cruelest punishments of the illegitimate apartheid regime. As a unifier, you obviously felt that South Africa was more important than party politics. After all, your life’s struggle was to ensure democracy in our country.

Sadly, these same young leaders, who I believe secretly love the ANC but no longer have confidence in us in our current state, suffer from the “me first” mentality that the ANC Youth League also seems to be ensnared in. How can men and women chasing their 40s purport to represent the real youth?

If we absorb the message from great leaders such as our late and longest-serving ANC president Oliver Tambo, in whose name the ANC intends to forge unity, surely ours is to serve the nation in the manner in which our policy document, the Freedom Charter, dictates. This cannot be achieved if we continue to ignore sages like you, who keep insisting that the captain does the right thing. If we ignore the pains of now, the better will never come.

In July last year, when visiting Orange Farm with you, together with Gauteng ANC leaders and former president Kgalema Motlanthe, you said: “Comrades, it was the volunteers that went door to door collecting the demands of our people that then turned into the Freedom Charter. Don’t ever stop doing what you’re doing as volunteers.”

So, as I bid you farewell Uncle Kathy, I know you fought a brave, lifelong fight. Like other leaders with integrity, you inspired me to fearlessly continue to speak truth to power.

And, like you, I choose South Africa.

Robala ka khotso Seaparankwe, and thank you.

Sexwale is a communication strategist and a political adviser

For Comrade Kathrada

Afzal Moolla, Gauteng

you stood tall.

shoulder to shoulder with your oppressed compatriots bludgeoned by the jackboot of apartheid South Africa.

you stood tall.

shoulder to shoulder with your fellow interned comrades on that desolate rock, Robben Island.

you stood tall.

shoulder to shoulder with those who yearned for freedom, for the common decency of being treated as human beings.

you stood tall.

your principles of nonracialism steadfast as your commitment to the freedom and democracy you and your comrades dedicated your entire lives to achieve.

you stood tall.

in the face of the brutality of the apartheid state, as they tried to break spirits that could not be shaken.

you stood tall.

for 26 long years, alongside your comrades Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba.

you stood tall.

inspiring a generation to continue the struggle against apartheid tyranny, your example burned bright in the hearts of those who yearned for, and fought for, the freedom of South Africa.

you stood tall, comrade Ahmed Kathrada.

you stood tall, uncle Kathy.

you stood tall. and you shall stand tall.

you shall stand tall.

for those of us you leave behind.

you shall always stand tall

for those yet to come.

you shall always stand tall.

Hamba kahle!


The struggle continues!

Read more on:    ahmed kathrada


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