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The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) mourns the passing of former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad. The Federation offers its sympathies to his former wife, children and the Pahad family. This is a loss not only to the Pahads but also for Tripartite Alliance and the nation. 2023 has been especially painful for the Pahad family with the loss of Aziz’s brothers, Essop and Junaid a few months ago.
Comrade Pahad dedicated his life to the democratic movement and South Africa’s liberation. This commitment to serve saw him playing active leadership roles in many formations from the Transvaal Indian Congress to the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. He followed a path set not only by his later father Goolam Pahad but also by another notable son of Schweizer-Reneke, Ahmed Kathrada.
His journey in the liberation struggle saw him rise from being a student activist at Wits University to training with Umkhonto We Sizwe in Angola to playing a key leading role in the ANC’s Office in the United Kingdom and the Anti-Apartheid Movement there.
Pahad, along with his lifelong friend, former President Thabo Mbeki, played a key role in transforming the ANC and the broader Alliance from a movement under siege and forced to operate thousands of kilometres from home to a force to be reckoned with internationally. Aziz and others’ relentless efforts saw the socialist countries, Scandinavia, the Southern African region and Africa being mobilised to support the liberation struggle. Their strategic leadership saw millions of students, unions, churches and businesses mobilised across the West in support of the anti-apartheid movement. Even governments that had been ambivalent or tacitly supported the apartheid regime, such as the Ronald Reagan administration in the United States, were forced to place sanctions on the apartheid regime. Testimony to their effectiveness is evidenced that by the time the liberation movements were unbanned in 1990, the ANC had more diplomatic missions across the world than the apartheid regime.
Aziz Pahad believed education is a lifelong process. The Pahad family was forced to move their sons, Essop, Junaid and Aziz, from Schweizer-Reneke to Johannesburg as there were no options for children of Indian descent to undertake their schooling in a small-town in the then western Transvaal suffocating under the yoke of racism. In spite of the many obstacles put in place by the apartheid regime for Black children to receive an education, Pahad not only received a Bachelor’s degree from Wits but went on to earn a Diploma from the University College in London and a Master’s Degree from Sussex University in Britain.
He is remembered as leader who was forthright and diplomatic in his views. His period as Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in the administrations of former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki saw him play a key role in articulating South Africa’s foreign policy. His tenure as Deputy Minister is fondly remembered by many as South Africa re-entered the international community after decades as a global pariah. He led the crafting of South Africa’s foreign policy where we moved from being a source of instability in the region to championing an African Renaissance. This was a foreign policy that was clear, rooted in a non-aligned stance, sought to enhance South Africa’s relations with all countries and in particular the African continent.
The passing of Aziz Pahad is a reminder that this generation of stalwarts is sadly coming to an end. If we are to do justice to their memories and sacrifices, the current and next generation of leaders need to reflect on their shortcomings and how they can better emulate the likes of the Pahads and many others who served South Africa with distinction during very difficult times. We have witnessed the rise of an embarrassing sense of entitlement, unhealthy lifestyles and an addiction to the trappings of power of too many current and aspiring leaders. This is a problem we can do without and that needs to be corrected if we want South Africa to reach its full potential.
Issued by COSATU