Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Kathrada Foundation for inviting us on this trip to one of our country’s most meaningful historical sites. It is deeply moving to know that Uncle Kathy wanted us to understand what Robben Island meant in the context of our struggle history, and had wanted to take us there himself. His absence here today was felt by all.
Those, like Uncle Kathy, who were imprisoned on the island paid an enormous price so that our country could escape the oppression of the Apartheid government. It was their freedom for ours. And it is their stories of sacrifice and leadership that we must turn to for guidance when it seems that we have so little left to guide us today.
Anyone who has ever crossed these 12km of water and set foot on Robben Island will know what the place symbolises for us as a nation. We often speak of the negotiators of our democracy and the authors of our Constitution in the early 90s as the people who wrote the crucial early chapters of our new nation, but many of those conversations started far earlier in the cells and on the grounds of the island.
Many of the concepts of freedom and justice that define us as a nation – and that eventually found their way into our progressive Constitution – were discussed and debated, agreed and disagreed on, for many years by the likes of Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Dennis Goldberg and Laloo Chiba, who today serves on the Kathrada Foundation Board.
It is an honour for me to make this trip along with people like Mr Chiba, and Barbara Hogan, who was jailed in the 1980s for her role in the fight against Apartheid. Those who were imprisoned on Robben Island sacrificed more than we can imagine. They were subjected to the most inhumane conditions, and parts of their lives were stolen from them and their families. But they helped anchor our struggle to build a free and just society today in the selfless struggle of our history. It is for that sacrifice were are most grateful for.
But today wasn’t only about remembering history. It was also about reflecting on our present. There would be no point in remembering the sacrifices of Mandela, Kathdrada, Sisulu and many others if we don’t ask ourselves: Are we honouring those sacrifices today? Have we made all those decades spent on that island in service of a better South Africa count? Would Ahmed Kathdrada and Nelson Mandela be satisfied with the state of our democracy and the quality of our leadership today?
Every single person in this country knows the answers to these questions. The juxtaposition between what we saw and remembered today and what we read in the Sunday newspapers yesterday was not lost on anyone. The contrast could not possibly be bigger.
Yesterday’s reports that our President has had ongoing relationships with gangsters and smugglers, that he received enormous payments from a private firm while he was president, that he used every means possible to evade his tax obligation and that he used his presidential powers to shut down investigations into his tax crimes are an indictment on the legacy of those who gave their freedom for ours.
You could not turn a page in the newspaper without reading of the corrupt activities, the crimes and the scandals of members of our government and their deployed cadres, including those hoping to take over their reins from Zuma at the end of the year. The organisation that once personified selfless struggle could not have fallen further from grace. The heroes we remembered today could not have been more betrayed.
It is time for every South African to take a stand for these heroes and their vision for our country. It is time for all of us to fix the mess this government under Jacob Zuma and his friends, his family, his handlers and his supporters have gotten us into. None of us can afford to sit on the fence any longer. We simply don’t have the luxury of time.
We made this trip to Robben Island today to fulfil Uncle Kathy’s wishes. But what he also wished for was a South Africa that works for all her people. A South Africa free from oppression, free from poverty and free from the greed of bad leaders. I intend to work to fulfil that wish.