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ANC: Zuma: Address delivered at the Gert Sibande Memorial Lecture (23/09/2008)

23rd September 2008

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Date: 23/09/2008
Source: African National Congress
Title: ANC: Zuma: Address delivered at the Gert Sibande Memorial Lecture (23/09/2008)

Premier Thabang Makwetla,
Members of the ANC NEC,
Provincial Chairperson David Mabuza and the provincial leadership,
Alliance leaders,
Distinguished guests,
Comrades and friends,

Good evening to you all.


I am deeply honoured to be here today to speak about the legacy of our outstanding revolutionary leader and hero of our struggle, Comrade Richard "Gert" Sibande, who during his lifetime was popularly known as the "Lion of the East."

We are also marking 50 years since that historic and most successful campaign launched jointly by the ANC and SACTU, the Potato Boycott, which took place in 1959.


When the ANC decided to commemorate the Potato Boycott and the legacy of Gert Sibande, little did we know that the commemoration would coincide with an eventful period in our country.

The National Executive Committee of the ANC took a painful decision to recall the President of the Republic, Comrade Thabo Mbeki. The decision was not taken lightly but was necessary in order for the country and the ANC to move forward.

The processes of electing a new President will be finalised by Thursday in Parliament. We have many capable Ministers who can lead us in government, amongst them our Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. If given the task, he would serve the country well as Head of State until the elections next year.

Earlier this week we called upon Ministers and Deputy Ministers to stay on and serve the nation. We respect the decision of the six who have resigned, as announced earlier today and applaud the six others who resigned technically but pointed out that they are available to serve the new administration.

The new President and the ANC will be able to form a capable new government without delay, to serve the nation and take forward the struggle to build a better life for all South Africans.

The resignations do not pose a crisis and there is no need to panic. The situation will be managed carefully to avoid any disruption of services.

We are pleased with the calm and mature manner in which South Africans responded to the recall of the President, which is a normal occurrence in other democracies but is still sad and painful.

We urge public servants in the six departments in which Ministers have resigned to focus on the work at hand. The political situation will be resolved soon and should not affect service delivery at all.

Ladies and gentlemen, the name Gert Sibande and the Potato Boycott of 1959 are synonymous as he was at the centre of that struggle, and played a critical role in the campaign.

He was instrumental in bringing to the fore the appalling working conditions that the farm workers of the Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga) were subjected to.

It was the work of Comrade Gert Sibande together with Comrade Ruth First who in 1947, first raised the awareness about the appalling conditions that farm workers were living in.

He was responsible for drawing national and international attention to the inhumane living and working conditions of potato-farm workers in the area, which resulted in a successful boycott of the product. Comrade Gert Sibande dedicated his entire life to the struggle to better the lives of farm workers and the goals of our revolution.

The name Gert Sibande evokes memories of all the organisational campaigns that were responsible for transforming the ANC to a vibrant and popular mass movement of the 1950's. He was part of all the major campaigns, which shaped the direction of the ANC, including the Defiance Campaign.

Comrade Gert Sibande's background had prepared him for the central role he was to play in the struggle for the emancipation of the people.

Comrade Gert Sibande was born in Ermelo in 1901 and was an ANC activist who first joined the ANC, in 1942, and was responsible for forming its Bethal branch of which he became its Chairperson. As a farm labourer in the Bethal district, he emerged in the 1930s as an organiser among the rural farm workers, when he founded a farm workers' association and became an instrumental leader of the ANC.

Comrade Gert Sibande was truly a grassroots leader who was rooted among the rural masses of the Eastern Transvaal, and was truly admired and respected by them.

The importance of Comrade Gert Sibande in our struggle was underlined by the fact that he was instrumental in organising one of the most difficult sectors in our struggle - the farm workers. He was also part and parcel of all the major struggles and campaigns that took place in the 1940's and the 1950's. He participated actively in the Defiance Campaign of 1952. He also played an instrumental role in the campaign against the introduction of Bantu Education, and was part of a build up and the actual drafting of the Freedom Charter.

He together with many of the comrades who came from rural areas hugely shaped and influenced the policies and direction of the ANC with regards to its demands around land issues. The clause in the Freedom Charter which says that: "The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!", spoke of the many grievances and difficulties that farm workers had and basically summarised how such conditions should be changed in future. This clause was directly influenced and came from the contingent of ANC comrades who worked in the farms, and came from rural backgrounds like Comrade Gert Sibande.

The effectiveness of the Potato boycott was such that it paralysed the potato farming industry because this boycott was directed against a single product, the potato and was easy to carry out. This speaks of the organising skills and capacity of Comrade Gert Sibande who was the moving spirit behind this campaign.

The boycott was a major success and confirmed that African workers and consumers were prepared to sacrifice their cheap source of a staple food to fight together to end the exploitation of their brothers and sisters in the rural areas. He was part of the movement and part of its leadership structures for many years, working side by side with leaders such Chief Albert Luthuli, Moses Kotane and Moses Mabhida. He worked with dedication and commitment equally for both the ANC and SACTU.

The life of Comrade Gert Sibande also represented the dialectical relationship that still exists even today between the trade union movement as well as the liberation movement. This is a relationship that was forged in struggle.

In honouring the memory of Comrade Gert Sibande it is therefore important to highlight the important role that was played by Alliance politics in his life.

He saw no contradiction between the two; he believed in and strongly worked for the strengthening of the Alliance between the ANC and SACTU.

In honouring the memory of Gert Sibande we must also remember that he was a rural activist and stood for the distribution of land to many rural people who were exploited by farmers.

His life therefore was about the fundamental changing of the socio-economic relations between farmers and farmer workers. He stood for the redistribution of land to those who worked for it.

This finds resonance with our current policy in the ANC today, where we work for an equitable land distribution as reflected in our Land and Agrarian Campaign, which will see 30 percent of the land being in the hands of the rural poor by 2014.

It is our duty to ensure that when we honour and remember the memory of Comrade Gert Sibande we must strengthen and intensify the implementation of our Land and Agrarian Campaign.

We must speed up the land reform programme, and ensure that our people work the land.

Heritage month celebrations mark the period of renewal, the beginning of a rainy season, ploughing time and a reminder to all of us to return to the fields.

The Mpumalanga Province and the National government have already launched Return to the Land (Asibuyeleni Emasimini) Campaign.

The rising food prices poverty and diseases should be a reminder that Asibuyeleni emasimini campaign is the surest means to overcome poverty unemployment and diseases.

The ANC is making a call to all South Africans and the people of Mpumalanga as a whole to take a lesson from Pixley Isaka Ka Seme, convener and first Treasurer General of the ANC who bought farms in this province.

The campaign was so successful that the white farmers called on the Union government to take away land from the black people.

This was achieved through the enactment of the Land Act of 1913, which only allocated 7% of the total surface of South Africa to African people. This Percentage was increased to 13 % in 1936.

African people were then forced into native reserves, which were too small and barren for agriculture and livestock.

The loss of land and its natural resources forcibly deprived Africans of skills in farming and indigenous knowledge systems, which sustained them from time immemorial.

Thus African people were forced to seek work as farm and domestic workers. The racially discriminatory laws ensured that Africans receive inferior education, do menial jobs and earn non-living wages.

Our land restitution and farmer settlement programmes are designed to correct the imbalances created by the land acts of 1913 and 1936 to enable black people to return to the land as part of our war against poverty, unemployment, and diseases. Researchers at home and abroad are searching for a cure for HIV and AIDS. People infected and affected by HIV and AIDS need nutritional and affordable food. It is only through community gardens and herbal nurseries that we can contribute to food security and higher health standards.

Ladies and gentlemen, September marks the beginning of the Ramadan for the Moslem Communities, the beginning of the New Year for the Jewish and African Communities. Many African indigenous churches for example the Zion Christian Church in Moria also celebrate their new year in September.

The ANC wants to take this opportunity to congratulate all cultural and religious communities, which have been celebrating their festivals and invite all South Africans, both black and white, to take part in the heritage celebrations tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me emphasise that the current political changes that are taking place in the country are nothing extraordinary. It is part of the turbulence that occurs in politics at some point or other and which just needs careful and skilful management. It is a passing phase. The situation will soon return to normal as we know exactly what we should do and are doing it with speed, precision and sensitivity.

We urge our citizens not to panic and to allow the ANC to manage the situation.

I thank you.


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