The funeral of ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada turned into a rallying cry against President Jacob Zuma’s rule‚ with many senior leaders speaking out against patronage and poor leadership.
Former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe was the main speaker at the funeral on Wednesday and took the opportunity to read a letter penned last year by Kathrada‚ who had called on Zuma to step down after the country’s highest court found that Zuma had violated the constitution.
Other leaders‚ including ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande‚ on Wednesday echoed the call for Kathrada’s legacy of ethical leadership to be emulated.
“Phantsi‚ Zuma!” a small group of mourners shouted after Motlanthe read Kathrada’s letter‚ which was loudly greeted with song and a standing ovation.
Kathrada died in the early hours of Tuesday morning in a Johannesburg hospital after weeks of illness. He had undergone surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
His death came amid heightened political tension in Zuma’s government‚ with renewed reports that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan is expected to be the main casualty of such a move after repeated clashes between the presidency and Gordhan’s ministry.
In the latest twist‚ Zuma on Monday forced Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas to cancel overseas trips aimed at engaging the investment community. Gordhan was already in London at the time‚ while Jonas was expected to visit the US later in the week.
Zuma said earlier on Wednesday he would not attend the funeral or the special official memorial service announced by his office.
However‚ other ministers and high-profile ANC veterans were in attendance‚ including deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa‚ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Gordhan‚ who had Kathrada’s firm support‚ according to an associate.
Zuma’s absence followed reports that Kathrada’s family had requested that he not speak at the funeral‚ which was regarded as a snub to the president.
Mantashe on Wednesday painted Kathrada as a model leader.
Speaking at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg‚ Mantashe said Kathrada was “incorruptible‚ not only in his politics but also in his personal life”.
“He was a man you knew would never let you down. He would never do something behind your back and never deceive you. You always knew where you stood with him. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful but they were never dishonest‚” Mantashe said‚ to applause from hundreds of mourners.
Nzimande‚ whose party has threatened to resign over the Gordhan saga‚ said: “We dare not gamble with this movement in his honour … We will continue to say no‚ no‚ no [to patronage]. It is unfortunate that he leaves at a time when his wisdom is needed more in our organisation.”
Bheki Ntshalintshali of trade union federation Cosatu gave a stern warning to the country’s leaders‚ saying they “are not organisations”.
“We must separate them. Leaders will come and go but organisations will remain. No matter how popular you may be‚ but never for a moment think you are bigger than the organisation‚” Ntshalintshali said.