True to his character, Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral was always going to be a dignified, honourable send-off fitting for a man renowned for his integrity, selflessness, and commitment to justice and the truth.
The anti-apartheid struggle icon was laid to rest in Johannesburg yesterday following a ceremony which by all accounts captured the national political mood.
As the ANC’s most prominent leaders gathered to pay their last respects, the absence of President Jacob Zuma was perhaps the most telling sign of the crisis in which the party finds itself.
Although welcome to attend the funeral, Zuma was denied a platform to speak by the Kathrada family.
He then opted not to attend the ceremony altogether, stating respect for the family’s wishes.
The snub by the Kathrada family with respect to the president was indeed to be expected. It is no secret that in his last days Kathrada was aggrieved by the state of the ANC.
In particular, he was distressed by the prevailing direction of our country under Zuma’s leadership.
So moved by his convictions, Kathrada wrote an emotional open letter last April asking Zuma to step down.
“And bluntly, if not arrogantly, in the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down?” Kathrada wrote.
Although his call found resonance with many South Africans in and outside the ANC, he would never see it realised, thanks to the increasingly destructive nature of ANC politics.
His words again found resonance with mourners as former president Kgalema Motlanthe read out the letter in a move that should be seen as an expression of Motlanthe’s own convictions.
For doing so, Motlanthe struck a chord.
He received a standing ovation. But do not be fooled. As profound as this occasion was, to Zuma and his cohorts, it means nothing.
It will not compel him to do the right thing. If anything it is likely to harden his attitude and further lead him down a destructive path.