Two score and more years ago we made a tryst with destiny.
I was there, in the ballroom of the Carlton Hotel, alongside my parents, Yusuf and Amina Cachalia, when Nelson Mandela thanked South Africa for placing the nation’s faith in the ANC of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and others.
Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, or Kathy as he was affectionately called, understood that tryst. More so, he fought, all of his life, to give meaning to it. I was privileged to know him.
He was an activist to the core and a humanitarian to his very marrow. He gave his all, to give meaning to that much used and abused phrase – a better life for all.
A little-known fact about Kathy – imparted to me by my father – is that he was assured by the stellar legal team headed by Bram Fischer, that he had no case to answer, and that they could ensure his acquittal.
Kathy refused. He elected to join his leaders and mentors in jail, where he sacrificed his freedom, over twenty-six years, to demonstrate the solidarity of the Indian people in our common struggle for freedom.
Let us salute his bravery, his sacrifice, his vision, and his unfailing commitment to that quest, which he saw to fruition, in that Carlton ballroom, where that tryst with destiny, was made.
In his speech, Nelson Mandela asked the people of South Africa to hold his government accountable.
As Jay Naidoo, the first RDP minister once said, “we had, in our hands the levers of power, money in a budget, staff, resources, and the conviction that this government, by virtue of its democratic election, was the only legitimate representative of the aspirations of our people.” He added wryly, “any criticism of the government was seen as a criticism of the revolution.”
That revolutionary narrative – fed, nurtured, and kept alive in the body of the ANC by the SACP – that South Africa represented a colonialism of a special type and, that power needed to be seized from the white colonists – set the scene for the decades to come.
The National Democratic Revolution became the interim buzzword of choice, and a black middle class was fostered to serve it.
Now we have the Bell Pottinger refinement of this in White Monopoly Capital – a smokescreen for racist appropriation, tribal control and the continuance of crookery.
The theory of the game was, that the expropriation of the wealth of the bourgeoisie, white then, and black, now, would be just deserts for their historic and ongoing appropriation.
In his heart, Kathy would have known that this was not the science of a revolution. He knew it was an apology for plunder. He knew that this is how the revolution eats itself, time and time again.
This is crass elitism masquerading as social justice. Of course, we need social justice, but this was bunk and Kathy knew this. If in doubt, read between the lines of his memoirs and other explicit statements he made since.
Kathy knew this in his heart because he had lived history. Because he knew. Because he had a reflective integrity. Because he was a mensch.
He lamented, too, that liberation had actualized a drive for conspicuous consumption. He knew this. Mandela knew this. And when I raised the issue with Madiba years ago, he likened it to children who had never seen sweets, being let loose in a sweet shop.
Witness the radical chic on many of the benches here – the Breitling watches, the Saville-row suits, the custom shoes and lavish motor cars and VVIP security, paid for by the taxpayer – as they continue to buy into the vain notion that socialism will arrive – this frenzy of appropriation notwithstanding – as long as the right structures are put in place and the correct measures taken.
Kathy had the moral fibre to see through this. He saw that tryst, being trampled and trashed as time went by.
Moreover, he understood the inherent contradictions, as did Frantz Fanon, who said, that the curse of post-colonial Africa was the leaders who took over from the colonialists only to become colonialists themselves – ironically of a very special type.
By March last year, Kathy had had enough.
He wrote a letter to his president, the Hon Jacob Zuma, in which he called for him to step down.
Kathy’s struggle credentials are writ large in blood, suffering and selfless contribution.
On his release in 1989, he served on the first national executive committee of the ANC after its unbanning – a far cry from the spineless “ja baas” body it is today.
He expressed his pain in writing to you, hon Zuma, as a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC and the broader Congress movement since the 1940s.
He had always maintained a position of not speaking out publicly about any differences he may have had with his leaders and his organisation. But on that day in March 2016, he was moved to break with that tradition.
Echoing the famed lament of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he said: “I did not speak out against Nkandla although I thought it wrong to have spent public money for any president’s private comfort.
I did not speak out‚ though I felt it grossly insulting when my president is called a “thief” or a “rapist”; or when he is accused of being “under the influence of the Guptas”.
I believed that the NEC would have dealt with this as the collective leadership of the ANC”.
But the record shows they didn’t and that, sadly and shamefully, is down to the politics of patronage and complicit compromise.
These events, Nkandla and more led him to ask some very serious and difficult questions.
He put it thus: “now that the court has found that the president failed to uphold‚ defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law‚ how should I relate to my president?
If we are to continue to be guided by growing public opinion and the need to do the right thing‚ would he not seriously consider stepping down?”
He went on to say: “I know that if I were in the president’s shoes‚ I would step down with immediate effect” and he appealed to the president to submit to the will of the people and resign.
That is the legacy of a man. A man of principle, so far removed from the politics of patronage.
I feel his pain. It was the same pain that I felt when the ANC left me. Yes, it left me like it did Kathy, and millions of South Africans because it has lost its way – irretrievably, irrevocably and indefinitely.
The time has come to usher in a change. A change that heralds a break with the old lie – that those who lay sole claim, to the mantle of victory over injustice, have a God-given right to rule – as they say – until Jesus comes.
In all the years of struggle, Kathy had borne witness to the warts that grew on the body of the ANC. And they were legion – Angolan death camps, Quattro, the sweep of the Shishita, the Makatshinga tragedy and more.
Still, he soldiered on to make that tryst with destiny. That tryst that has been so shamefully shattered by one man who has sought to make South Africa his private fiefdom, in the pay of his ostensible masters, the Gupta’s.
But as I alluded to earlier, it’s not just one man. It is rooted in the DNA of a flawed model. A model that promises an unattainable utopia of sorts, and whose chosen path is defective and riven with contradictions – contradictions which harbour the very seeds of its own destruction.
You see, you cannot build a free and open society by following a game plan that has failed throughout the passage of history; that has delivered greyness and misery; that has trampled freedom; that has stifled economic growth, and that has fostered an elite that feeds on its own body and that of the nation – examples abound throughout history but these are ignored and rooted here in the body, and the sullied soul of the ANC. On which side of history do you want to be?
It’s not the absence of examples, it’s the inability to heed the lessons of history; the inability to do the right thing when called upon to do so.
It is incumbent on us to deliver a prosperous and fair state that addresses the needs and individual aspirations of all our people.
It cannot be delivered by an organisation that has passed its sell-by date, that that prays to the god of mammon, in its vain quest to eradicate, nay to appropriate, the spoils of mammon.
Let me quote Matthew, 6:24 to you, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”.
This is the language that Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada would have understood because it is common cause in Islam as it is in Christianity, and in the hearts of all religions. Haji Ahmed would have known from whence it came.
It would have resonated with his understanding, because his values would never have allowed him to be the handmaiden of Nkandla, of the Zupta’s, of the misreading of history and of the attempted sale of our nation.
He was a patriot. The ANC of the hon Zuma that left him, that left me, is the antithesis of that patriotism, of that nobility of purpose.
Perhaps Gandhi was right when he said of India – and these words of his would have resonated with Kathy, who was grounded in Gandhism –
“I have repeatedly said that I have neither any part nor any say in many things that are going on in the country today.
…My voice is in the wilderness… mine is a lone voice. I now say things which do not go home…yet, I go on saying what I believe to be true.”
Gandhi had famously called for the Indian National Congress – in India – to be dissolved because it had done its job by ending British rule.
The wise and wizened Mahatma called for a new organisation to serve the people of India; one that would eschew corruption.
His plea fell on deaf ears, and there, as it is here, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.
I share a common history with Kathy, a passage from colonial India, a family steeped in the struggle against injustice. But we also share a sense of betrayal.
Still, I am buoyed by a conviction that democracy will triumph over time.
General Obasanjo knew this and advised as much in his recent visit – advice that President Zuma, Mr Mugabe, Sudan’s al-Bashir and Zambia’s Lungu would do well to heed.
You see, democracy triumphed over India’s Congress and, it will triumph here, over your Congress – of that the DA and history will make sure, as we honour the spirit of Ahmed Kathrada.
Kathy, know this, your voice is not in the wilderness. It will ring out loud in our victory of 2019. We will hallow your purpose; we will consecrate your spirit.
Our sincere condolences go out to Barbara Hogan, the Kathrada family and the people of our nation.
I thank you.