Lost in turmoil

2017-04-18 06:00

IN the turmoil of the past two weeks, I have been worried that there has not been a proper period of mourning for struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada.

Uncle Kathy died from post brain surgery complications last Tuesday, a day after President Jacob Zuma ordered former Finance minister Pravin Gordhan back from an international investor roadshow in London.

From the moment news broke that Gordhan had been ordered to return home, it was clear something ominous was looming. When Gordhan and director-general of the National Treasury Lungisa Fuzile landed in South Africa last Tuesday morning, news was spreading that Kathrada had died.

Turbulence raged on the markets and the rand plunged over uncertainty around Gordhan’s fate. At the same time, the country was coming to terms with the loss of the stalwart, one of South Africa’s true heroes who dedicated his whole life to public service and the fight against racism.

Uncle Kathy had a momentous send-off last Wednesday with a funeral that reflected his humility and legendary life as a freedom fighter and activist.

Then, after midnight last Thursday, Zuma swung his axe, causing shock and pandemonium. Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas were fired, along with several other ministers and deputy minsters as part of a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle.

Since then, controversy has raged over Zuma’s lack of consultation with ANC officials, the dodgy intelligence report he used to justify Gordhan’s and Jonas’s axing, and the takeover of the National Treasury by people perceived to be close to the Gupta family.

The backlash from society has been unprecedented. There has been a barrage of calls for Zuma to step down or be recalled, including from the ANC’s alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu, as well as a group of over 100 ANC veterans.

Then came the almighty blow as a direct result of Zuma’s decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas: the downgrade to junk status by ratings agencies S&P Global and Fitch.

During this period, there have been several memorial services for Uncle Kathy, with the speeches taken up by talk of mobilisation against Zuma.

The spirit at these events has been rousing, reminiscent of the heyday of the anti-apartheid struggle.

At the Johannesburg memorial, the speech by Uncle Kathy’s wife Barbara Hogan, a freedom fighter who spent 10 years in prison, was scathing of the president. “You have sacrificed everything we have stood for, on the altar of corruption, greed and more greed,” she said.

The day after the reshuffle, she came out of mourning to express her anger that Zuma had been so disrespectful of Uncle Kathy’s life by causing mayhem in the country so soon after he was laid to rest.

“If this was a presidency that was listening to the sentiments in this country, the funeral service of Mr Kathrada alone would have alerted them to the high emotions and feelings that are going on in this country,” she said.

This week, I interviewed former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who had a close relationship with Uncle Kathy. I asked him whether he thought the events of the past two weeks had dishonoured the memory of Uncle Kathy.

“Comrade Kathy would be very happy with his send-off,” Motlanthe said.

“He would have been happy that at last the activists in South Africa are beginning to rise. He was not one to countenance wrongdoing and injustice.”

This is true. In the last year of his life, Uncle Kathy was still campaigning against racism and in support of the Palestinian cause. He also came out to support the Fees Must Fall campaign.

But it is sad that both at Nelson Mandela’s memorial and now the events to commemorate Uncle Kathy’s life, public anger over Zuma’s behaviour boiled over. The president has destroyed so much in our country, including several institutions of the state. He must not be allowed to eclipse the memories of our icons.

Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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