On a day like this we should not mince words. We should say it like it is. We are pained, saddened and sorrowful. We are a nation in mourning. Ahmed Kathrada, one of our most revered national leaders, has shuffled off this mortal coil.
Therefore let me express our deepest condolences to comrade Barbara Hogan and the Kathrada family, as well as his comrades and friends.
Today is the day on which we close the eyes of comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours for ever and saved us from the blindness of the heart.
Along with countless men and women of a higher order of consciousness with whom he cast his lot in pursuance of deep ideals, comrade Kathy helped unleash human possibilities.
Warts and all, post-apartheid South Africa is an attestation of such human possibilities comrade Kathy and his generation and those before him dared to imagine.
In this subversive act of opening our eyes he made us believe in our inherent ability to create a totally new order of reality.
His subversive cast of mind succeeded in heralding a vision for a state of being that would redefine human imagination not only on the southern tip of the continent of Africa but on a global scale.
The anti-apartheid struggle redefined the very notion of being human, challenging the idea of racial hierarchy historically steeped in the ethos of European Enlightenment.
Against the excesses of Euro-centric self-consciousness that defined itself normatively and the rest as ‘the other’, comrade Kathy and a legion of his comrades refused to conform to this imposed norm and thereby canonised the historical period in which they lived.
On a scale of history this was indeed re-imagining human possibilities…
Comrade Kathy never doubted for a moment even during his twenty six years behind bars that this abiding historical imagination would generate a new order of being for the downtrodden masses reeling under a racist yoke.
His frame of vision, which invested his mode of being with elevated meaning, may very well have been articulated by the poet Henry van Dyke’s imperishable words that:
‘There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind (sic) a little higher.’
After snatching Nelson Mandela and many others of his generation before him, the ineluctable hand of mortality has struck once again, snuffing out the life of one of our own and in the process leaving us all poorer for it.
When mortality pounces, it does so without due regard to human emotion.
Those wedded to the African metaphysics would be forgiven for attributing comrade Kathy’s departure to otherworldly conspiracy among those of his comrades who have pre-deceased him and for whom existence in the other dimension could not continue without him among their number.
Those revolutionaries who have transitioned to the ages include Abdullah Abdurahman, Charlotte Maxeke, Sefako Makgatho, Sol Plaatje, Lillian Ngoyi, Bram Fischer, Helen Joseph, Dullar Omar, Nelson Mandela, Kader Asmal, Walter Sisulu, Harold Wolpe, Oliver Tambo, Alias Motswaledi, Arthur Goldreich, Joe Slovo, Moses Kotane, Monty Naicker, Moses Mabida, Amina Cachalia, Ruth First, Ahmed Timol, Raymond Mhlaba, JB Marks, Govan Mbeki, Yusuf Dadoo, Solomon Mahlangu and may more.
All these revolutionaries shared a common vision with him; a vision steeped in a transcendent notion of human possibilities.
It may very well be that they felt incomplete without his diligence, his contagious banter, his humility, and his ability to exude human fellowship.
After eighty seven of exemplary life, comrade Ahmed Kathrada has succumbed to mortality, as did all those comrades before him, as will all of us, when our hour strikes.
And so it is that during moments like this, the fragility of the human condition whips up feelings of hurt, sorrow, grief and pain in all of us whom he leaves behind.
Yet we may choose to look at things on the bright side. If we did, we would realise that such a life as that of comrade Kathy is worth celebrating on its own terms.
A sense of fortitude would council us to offset the pain of his mortality by embracing the immortality of his legacy. What he and his political organisation, the ANC, stood for, has for ever enriched human experience.
I would say that we should take comfort from the immortality of the idea that defined his social existence… the idea of freedom.
While in one fell swoop mortality has blown off his life, his vision will always remain etched in historical memory.
Each day of the enjoyment of freedom for all of us is an ode to comrade Kathy and all those who like him fought to a standstill against human oppression articulated in the discourse of racialization.
His legacy finds voluble expression in the centrality of the idea that his life radiated; the idea that we have the ability to create a new form of life.
A new form of life anchored in a human-centred consciousness, whose defining tenets are unity, democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism and justice.
These principles, for which comrade Kathy lived all his life, were not just hollow statements.
They are foundational to the South Africa we live in today!
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 failure of politics.
In this regard we need not put words into his mouth post facto or post-humously; since, true to his consistent principles, he penned a public letter to the President of our country in which he gave vent to his views about the state in which our nation finds itself.
In parts his letter reads:
‘I have always maintained a position of not speaking out publicly about any difference I may harbour against my leaders and my organisation, the ANC. I would only have done so when I thought that some important organisational matters compel me to raise my concerns.
Today I have decided to break with that tradition. The position of President is one that must at all times unite this country behind a vision and programme that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans. It is a position that requires the respect of all South Africans, which of course must be earned at all time.’
Comrade Kathy continues:
‘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’.
Three hundred and fifty-four days ago today, comrade Kathrada wrote this letter to which a reply had not come by the time he left us.
I have quoted comrade Kathy at length in this regard to make the point that for better or for worse what he stood for never changed according to the fluidities of history.
He held on to the immutable laws of history in so far as they were prescriptive of the highest good for human life. Like ancient thinkers he was preoccupied with the most desirable form and content of human existence.
Comrade Kathy took exception to the current culture of sordid feeding frenzy, moral corruption, societal depravity, political dissolution as well as the post-colonial culture of grossness and sleaze enveloping the human mind that would put to shame even some of the vilest political orders known to human history.
He found current South African political leadership wanting on many fronts that he mentions in his letter and could not hesitate to call for the resignation of the President of the country with whom the buck stops.
Once again, here is to human possibilities! Just when a dispassionate observer could have thought the ravages of age have deprived him of his trademark intellectual acuity, comrade Kathy let rip in his vintage moral mode.
Yet he remained for ever measured, a towering moral icon who would not compromise with anything outside the framework of superior human values.
In this connection, he was once again reaffirming the courage, humility, selflessness and generosity of freedom struggle within the framework of self-reflection.
Indeed a measure of self-reflection is needed if human civilisation is to endure. The ANC itself may disappear off the face of the earth if it fails to embrace the culture of self-reflection concerning its character and inner soul as a governing party.
Comrade Kathy himself deemed a critique of current democratic government a pre-condition for the sustenance of our democracy.
For him the mainsprings of a cultured politics constitute the practice of truth-telling, honesty, sincerity and unambiguous critical dialogue.
Self-reflection means a process of subjective becoming by consciously grappling with objective reality. The process of self-reflection makes and remakes our subjectivity.
Self-reflection amounts to questioning the very basis of the underlying postulates that frame the way we do things.
Without self-reflection human beings degenerate into a depersonalised state of parrotry, conformity and robotics. A political culture that develops its own self-reflexive practices tends to privilege auto-critical mode of existence that cannot be subordinated to the manipulations of any social forces.
It cannot but draw sustenance from a universally endorsed vision of history at the centre of which resides the human agenda.
In equal measure comrade Kathy was troubled by the noxious climate of racism consuming the soul of our nation.
He established the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation on the central tenet of fighting the monster of racism, driven by the understanding that the onset of April 1994 did not mark the social end of racist practices.
He remained perturbed by the continued socio-historical essence of the concept of race whose pernicious articulations are embedded in the discourse of modernity.
It is worth noting that comrade Ahmed Kathrada remained politically engaged with the challenges of his time to the very last minute of his life. He neither tired nor let the fragility of old age stand in his way. He was a redoubtable, diligent and passionate activist for social change and justice; the very metaphor for human agency!
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, opined that “(Y)ou are worthy of the name human if you can practice five things in this world: respectfulness, magnanimity, truthfulness, acuity and generosity.”
Comrade Kathy possessed all these virtues and then some!
How then do we conclude a requiem to a life well-lived? Perhaps Horatius, the officer of the Roman Empire, expressed our current historical experience better when he penned this ode:
‘Happy is the man, and happy he alone, he, who can call today his own, He who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today!’
Go well Uncle Kathy; you have had your run!! Hamba Kahle cawe la ma cawe…Tsamaya sentle mogale wa bagale!!!!
I thank you