Mbeki: We lost Cachalia when we needed her most

Former President Thabo Mbeki has paid tribute to deceased struggle hero Amina Cachalia by saying South Africa “needed people like her to really recall what our struggle was about”.

“It’s very bad that we lose people like her when it’s quite clear that, at this particular moment, we need (them) to really recall what our struggle was all about, what its values were and what was intended to be achieved,” said Mbeki.

Cachalia (82) was late last night given an Islamic burial in Johannesburg’s West Park Cemetery after a lifetime of political activism.

The burial ceremony was attended by, among others, former president Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and renowned human rights lawyer and struggle icon George Bizos.

Earlier in the evening, President Jacob Zuma had arrived at Cachalia’s home in Parkview, Johannesburg, to mourn her passing.

Also present were ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, as well as Graca Machel.

Speaking outside his mother’s house, Ghaleb Cachalia, Amina’s son, said “we will miss her dearly”.

“My mother lived a wonderful life. She was a strong, hardworking woman who heaped love on us,” he said.

Rivonia trialist Ahmed Kathrada, one of the many struggle icons who attended the wake, said Cachalia was an example to people of what “commitment, sacrifice and struggle” really meant.

“I remember her as a very courageous person throughout her life ... there was no activity in which she was absent,” he said.

Ramaphosa said Cachalia’s death was a “great loss to the people of this country and particularly to the ANC”.

“She was one of those older comrades we had in our country who continued to offer advice and continued to encourage us along the path of making sure that the ANC realises the objectives it was set up for,” said Ramaphosa.

After the wake, Cachalia’s body was carried out of her home in accordance with Islamic law.

She was laid to rest in West Park Cemetery, facing Mecca, while a yellow moon rose over the horizon and a cool breeze washed the scent of red earth over the assembled mourners.

In an interview with City Press after the burial, Motlanthe said he was shocked that Cachalia had passed on because he had spent time with her in December and she had not seemed frail then.

“She belonged to a generation of very good people who really gave their all for the struggle for liberation and creating a humane society,” he said.

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, said Cachalia was akin to Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, “one of the great patriots”.

“She was part of a generation of people that are now passing on and I often think we don’t celebrate them enough.”

Cachalia was admitted to Milpark Hospital for hip replacement surgery two weeks ago, said Ghaleb Cachalia.

He said she was recuperating well but was readmitted to hospital on Monday with a perforated ulcer which required immediate surgery.

On Thursday, she suffered severe organ complications and was put into an induced coma on Friday. She passed away earlier today.

She is survived by two children and four grandchildren.

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