Zuma the elephant in the room at Kathrada's funeral

2017-03-29 14:45
President Jacob Zuma. (File, Karen Bleier, AFP)

President Jacob Zuma. (File, Karen Bleier, AFP)

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Letter to president shows 'candidness' of Ahmed Kathrada - Mantashe

2017-03-29 14:07

ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe spoke to the media after the funeral service of ANC icon Ahmed Kathrada. In particular, Mantashe was asked to comment on the letter, echoed by Kgalema Motlanthe at the service, for Zuma to step down. Watch. WATCH

Johannesburg - Although he wasn't physically present, President Jacob Zuma's presence loomed large at the funeral of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The Presidency had earlier released a statement that Zuma would not attend the funeral and memorial service, in compliance with the wishes of the family.

Most current and former top ANC leaders, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, attended Kathrada’s send-off.

Zuma postponed Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting to allow ministers to attend the funeral. 

Amidst speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle that could see Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan axed, it was hard not to read into some of the comments by mourners direct and indirect criticism of Zuma’s recent actions against Gordhan, as they delivered tributes to the ANC struggle stalwarts.

The biggest moment was when former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe quoted a letter Kathrada penned almost a year ago, asking Zuma to step down. It was followed by a standing ovation and thundering applause from mourners, including some of Zuma’s ministers like Gordhan and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

EFF leader Julius Malema and former Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi were also on their feet to support Kathrada’s call for Zuma to resign.

Ramaphosa and former president Thabo Mbeki did not stand. 

'Feeding frenzy'

"It would be disingenuous to pay tribute to the life of comrade Ahmed Kathrada and pretend that he was not deeply disturbed by the current post-apartheid failures of politics," Motlanthe said in his speech.

Motlanthe unsuccessfully challenged Zuma for the position of ANC president at the party’s 2012 national conference in Mangaung.

Motlanthe also bemoaned the fact that Kathrada’s letter went without any formal reply.

“Comrade Kathy took exception to the current culture of feeding frenzy, moral corruption, societal depravity, political dissolution, the gross and sleaze enveloping human mind that would put to shame even some of the vilest political orders known to human history," Motlanthe said.  

Another standing ovation came when the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s CEO Neeshan Balton acknowledged the presence of Gordhan and asked him to stand.

"Irrespective of whether you are a minister or not in days or weeks to come, you remain true to the values and principles that Kathrada would be proud of," Balton said to Gordhan, who was earlier seen wiping away a tear when he was introduced.

He said, when Gordhan was facing corruption charges over an early pension payout for a SARS employee, Kathrada was ready to stand by his side. 

"When Pravin was to go to court, Kathy said, 'I want to be the first one to accompany him to court',: Balton said.

Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali threw in a jab about those absent at the burial of the "finest son of the soil". 

"I believe that all of us who are here today, we never received any invitation to come here, we were invited by the work and contribution of comrade Kathy Kathrada," Ntshalintshali said. 

He appealed for honesty and bravery from leaders of the movement, and said the ANC did not belong to an individual.

His message also had a solemn warning. "Comrade Kathy, leaders are not organisations. We must separate leaders from organisations. Leaders will come and go, but organisations will remain… No matter how popular you may be, but never for a moment think that you are bigger than the organisation," Ntshalintshali said to applause.


Mantashe described Kathrada as incorruptible, in both his politics and personal life.

"He belonged to a generation described by (anti-apartheid activist) Yusuf Dadoo at the funeral of comrade Moses Kotane. He was incorruptible, not only in his politics, but also in his personal life. He was a man you knew could never let you down or do something behind your back and never deceive you," said Mantashe.

He said he always knew where he stood with Kathrada.

"Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful, but never dishonest," said Mantashe.

He said he hoped Kathrada’s passing would assist those in the party to pull together.

Read more on:    pravin gordhan  |  kgalema motlanthe  |  jacob zuma  |  ahmed kathrada

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