The esteemed Sisulu family and relatives,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers present,
The media fraternity,
In late August 1988 at an American conference of media workers, Comrade Zwelakhe Sisulu’s friend at Harvard University, Joe Oglesby, had this to say about him while he was in indefinite incarceration in South Africa: “To know Zwelakhe is to know a man who bears a great and unspeakable burden with grace and courage and remarkable serenity... his mission in life was clear: he wanted justice and freedom for his people. And he wanted to fight for those ideals through his newspaper.”
Another fellow Harvard classmate, Callie Crossley, stated that Comrade Zwelakhe was imprisoned because “he represents the best and brightest of South Africa’s younger voices of protest”. He was in Harvard after winning the prestigious Niemann Fellowship, indicative of his accomplishments as a journalist.
The utterances of these foreign nationals sum up the man whose life we have come to celebrate this morning - his principles, dreams and aspirations; the totality of his being.
Comrade Zwelakhe lived his life to the full, displaying his sharp intellect, humility, wisdom and warmth in his many capacities, as a freedom fighter, award winning journalist and media owner and entrepreneur. As many have testified, Comrade Zwelakhe Sisulu was a child of the struggle.
He was born during a momentous period in the African National Congress (ANC), in December 1950, when his father was completing his first year as ANC Secretary-General, after being elected in December 1949. Incidentally, he was born when his father was attending an annual ANC conference, and that was to define his life and destiny.
He was born to parents who chose to dedicate their lives to the struggle to free this country from colonial oppression and apartheid. They were determined to use everything in their power to contribute to building a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa.
Their children imbibed that spirit of dedication, commitment, patriotism and spirit of no surrender until freedom was gained in their country. He was born during a time when the ANC’s radical Programme of Action was setting it and its leaders on a collision course with the apartheid authorities.
That collision course led to his dear father and our illustrious leader and icon, Tata Comrade Walter Sisulu to endure prison terms before the ultimate one in Robben Island following the famous Rivonia trial of 1963.
Thus Zwelakhe and his siblings felt the brunt of the struggle at a very tender age, and had their father taken away from them for two and a half decades.
As a little boy, Comrade Zwelakhe may have understood very little of the frequent visits of favourite uncles, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Duma Nokwe to their house in Orlando West, but by the age of ten, he already knew their mission and the life his parents led.
With his parents’ frequent harassment and detention, he soon became accustomed to a life of restlessness and pain at a young age, particularly after his father’s life sentence following the famous Rivonia trial.
We may be stating a historical fact that his father was sentenced to life imprisonment and his siblings Max and Lindiwe left and went into exile due to police harassment and torture, but the impact of this on Comrade Zwelakhe was deep.
For this reason, he grew up imbued with a heightened sense of morality, justice and fairness towards fellow human beings, making him to join the struggle in his youth.
He chose writing and journalism, which he saw as a very potent medium to change society towards complete freedom, equality and democracy.
Like many accomplished and respected veterans in his field from earlier generation, such as Nat Nakasa and later Percy Qoboza, Joe Thloloe, Thami Mazwai, Sophie Tema, Aggrey Klaaste to name a few, Zwelakhe became a thorn in the flesh of the apartheid government.
Through his writings, he consolidated the voices and mobilised the people to fight for their freedom and justice.
He left his mark from the mid-1970s at several publications, such as the Rand Daily Mail, EP Herald, Sunday Express, Sunday Post, and the Sowetan, which he was to own years later.
When the oppressed decided there was a need for an alternative voice in the media, he made a major contribution as a founding editor of The New Nation, which started in January 1986.
Allow me to quote at length his profound words in the very first editorial of the New Nation.
He said: “This newspaper is born out of hope, and out of a firm belief and commitment to democratic ideals and values. It will reflect the daily struggles, desires and aspirations of the masses.
“Above all, let it be said that we stand for a non-racial, democratic South Africa that will be free of exploitation, oppression and racism.” Thus, the mission of the newspaper was never hidden. The New Nation was an instrument of struggle, the mouthpiece of the voiceless and the oppressed, and it had a visionary editor in Comrade Zwelakhe.
This people’s paper captured vividly and with gravity and poignancy the daily political struggles of the people and relentlessly promoted freedom and equality.
As President of the Media Workers Association of South Africa, the battle against media monopolies that were also the mouthpieces for the injustices of apartheid led him to be banned by the apartheid regime.
His young life took the form so many others lived by, in by 6pm out at 6am and house arrest every weekend, and yet, his courage and commitment did not allow a banning order to hold back the work that needed to be done to resist the machine of collusion that apartheid had developed.
In his last editorial before he was detained, Comrade Zwelakhe wrote as follows; “Autocratic regimes will come and go, but the people’s desire to be free and determine their own future is constant and permanent and cannot be trammelled by even the greatest force”.
His detention marked one important aspect in the struggle during that time, international solidarity. A flurry of voices of support and condemning apartheid came from all the corners of the world, something that we are still grateful for as a nation.
Comrade Zwelakhe put his expertise and commitment to the disposal of the nation and served as the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) first Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the dawn of freedom. Under his stewardship, the SABC celebrated the first pulses of freedom of speech, giving full expression to Madiba’s vision of unity and reconciliation. When he later ventured into business, he assisted in laying the foundations for black economic empowerment.
He was a hard-working and successful businessman, cutting his teeth first at the New Africa Investment Limited and nurturing various interests across the continent in mining, media and agri-business to name a few.
He was in many aspects therefore a true success, a shining star whose radiance and allure cannot be interred with his body. Today we are celebrating this remarkable life, lived with dignity and integrity and selfless commitment to the struggle for the liberation of our people as well as the development of our country.
His life took many roads and he crossed many large rivers to emerge as a man we are bidding farewell here today. We also celebrate his commitment to the performing arts. He championed the training of young people in drama and the arts through progressive formations such as the Open School and Funda Centre.
Only recently he sought to capture all the songs of our liberation era, as part of the commitment he had to record the cultural dynamism of our struggle.
Compatriots, on this sad day, we once again pay tribute to the spirit of his dear parents and our leaders Albertina and Walter Sisulu. They raised this patriot that we can stand up here today and speak about, without fear of contradiction.
We laid our beloved Mama Albertina Sisulu to rest only last year. The wounds had not completely healed. Today we also acknowledge the wonderful Sisulu family, which epitomises sacrifice, patriotism and freedom in this country.
For this reason, in 1988 the Sisulu family were awarded the Carter-Menil Human Rights Award for their courage and dedication to the struggle. This family epitomises unity, love and togetherness which can be felt from a distance by all of us, and that can only result from the teachings of Walter and Albertina Sisulu.
Comrades and compatriots,
Comrade Zwelakhe departs during the year of the centenary of the ANC, as if to say his mission has been accomplished. He leaves the responsibility to us all to build the ANC and to revive its core values of unity, selflessness, sacrifice, collective leadership, humility, honesty, discipline, hard work, internal debates, constructive criticism and self-criticism as well as mutual respect.
As our country faces intense pressure like other economies, due to the global economic meltdown, we take lessons from Comrade Zwelakhe that it is only through unity and working together that we can achieve the prosperous society we seek. It is only through unity and placing South Africa first, that we can consolidate the freedom and democracy that Comrade Zwelakhe worked tirelessly for.
We have laid a good foundation in the past 18 years, but the struggle continues against poverty, inequality and unemployment. That struggle calls for the type of sacrifice, dedication and commitment that Comrade Zwelakhe displayed. It calls for supreme loyalty to the movement and the country, which we also learn from Comrade Zwelakhe’s legacy.
To the family, the pain might be intense and unbearable at this point. However, take solace from the enduring legacy of unselfish service to the nation that Comrade Zwelakhe Sisulu leaves behind.
Take solace from the fact that every single person in this hall and beyond, has fond memories of Comrade Zwelakhe because of the wonderful human being that he was and always will be.
Hamba kahle Xhamela, usuwufezile umsebenzi wakho.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
I thank you!