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Address by Deputy President David Mabuza at the Memorial Service of Dr Zola Sidney Themba Skweyiya

Our sister, Mrs Thuthukile Skweyiya and children, Former President Thabo Mbeki, Members of the Executive in our midst, Members of the Judiciary in our midst, Family and friends of Dr Zola Skweyiya, Fellow South Africans, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This past Saturday our country hosted the world in laying to rest one of our revolutionary stalwarts Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Hardly a week we are gathering to pay our respect to another giant of our struggle Dr Zola Skweyiya.

With his passing, our country has lost a fine revolutionary, an upright human being and a true servant of the people.

As a nation, and the African National Congress in particular, we are cognisant of the reality that this period marks a critical turning point in our political history. It is time when we losing the generation of outstanding leaders that made an immense contribution to our freedom.

In this hour of grief and loss, we find comfort that Dr Skweyiya leaves a rich legacy behind for all of us to emulate.

Throughout his life, he performed extraordinary feats because he was driven by a deep sense of social justice, care and love of his people. It was his deep hatred for racial oppression and injustice that inspired his life-long activism.

Dr Skweyiya was a very loyal cadre of the ANC. He was a deep thinker, and very rational person, and yet disciplined in his own conduct, and in understanding the ANC and its reputation.

As a loyal member, he gave absolute loyalty and obedience to the leadership of the organization. But he was also independent minded, but careful nonetheless as to how he expressed himself.

He was humble yet steadfast in his principles.

In valuing integrity, truth and selflessness, he became an embodiment of servant leadership and a shining light for the destitute and marginalised of our country and the world.

Trained as a lawyer, he understood the power of law as an instrument of effecting political change and of advancing justice and equality. As a Cabinet Minister, his work was truly pioneering.

The many strides that we made as a country especially on the enjoyment, promotion and protection of basic human rights as provided in our Constitution, are partly due to Dr Skweyiya’s contribution and personal drive and conviction.

He succeeded in serving our nation with distinction because his love for the people was authentic. His enthusiasm for their dreams and aspirations was unsurpassed.

As a living personification of fairness and justice, his demeanour exemplified a special sensitivity to the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

Because of his passion for life and deep love for his people, he became a revolutionary cadre par excellence. He epitomised a cadre of unquestionable loyalty and dedication to his people.

In 1985, Oliver Tambo whom he worked with for many years in exile, must have had in mind a good human being of the calibre of Dr Skweyiya when he said,

“The distinctive feature of the revolutionary cadre is a high level of discipline, dedication and courage in carrying out the tasks assigned by the movement. Such cadres are guided by our goal of a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa.”

Dr Skweyiya placed the integrity of the organisation above all else.

In executing his responsibilities, he understood that his very actions would always be mirrored against what the ANC stood for. And for this reason, his revolutionary morality always took a central stage of his life and conduct.

He belongs to the generation of leaders whose very being and preoccupation was nothing but service to the people.

His life of activism and revolutionary struggle for our freedom as well as his life in public service, is peppered with nothing other than conviction, compassion and selflessness.

In all likelihood, these traits and character of Dr Skweyiya were shaped by his early years at Lovedale as a young student activist.

Lovedale was one of the historic mission schools that became an influential centre for education in South Africa. It was the heartbeat of political thought leadership and activism.

As the hotbed of the politics of resistance, it produced prominent names in the political and intellectual history of South Africa.

Among those who came from there and were his contemporaries, was the late Comrade Chris Hani, former President Thabo Mbeki and Comrade Pallo Jordan, to name but a few.

This generation of leaders remains the finest that our movement produced.

Here, students always participated in the campaigns of the Congress Movement, the boycotts and delegations of the Youth League.

Looking at this generation of young activists at the time, it is not suprising that Dr Skweyiya was soon immersed in the politics of the African National Congress, which he joined at the age of 14.

He proceeded to pursue his tertiary education at the University College of Fort Hare, which was another centre of intellectual, academic and political life in South Africa.

The period between 1961 to 1964 was one of intense repression in South Africa. The escalation of the politics of resistance led to the Rivonia Trial. The banning of liberation organisations, led directly to the establishment of the armed struggle and the underground structures of the ANC.

Together with his generation of young activists, Comrade Zola was among those pioneering cadres who left the country and established the external mission of the ANC and Umkhonto WeSizwe.

In 1978, Dr Skweyiya obtained a doctorate in law in the then German Democratic Republic. He became the Chief Representative of the ANC to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, which is where he honed his diplomatic skills.

After many years in Addis Ababa, the ANC appointed him to head the Legal and Constitutional Department of the ANC based in Lusaka. This was during a very sensitive time in the life of the ANC in exile. It was the time when large numbers of young South Africans post 1976 swelled the ranks of the ANC.

By so doing the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe got a new lease of life. It was also the decade of fierce internal resistance, and the ANC President’s call to make South Africa ungovernable was receiving enthusiastic support in South Africa.

It was the time when the struggle, both internally and externally, combined to exert pressure on the apartheid regime. Inevitably, it was also the time when apartheid agents infiltrated the ANC, at the camps and elsewhere. Responses to this, and the need for discipline were increased within ANC.

Reports about life in the ANC camps, detention without trial and other forms of counter surveillance led to suspicion that there were human rights violations within ANC.

Oliver Tambo entrusted Dr Skweyiya to lead the ANC efforts at establishing a culture of human rights, maintenance of the rule of law even within the ANC camps, and ultimately an investigation was undertaken in order to root out any violations within the ANC.

This very sensitive task was handled by Comrade Zola Skweyiya with dignity and understanding.

He was known to be the one who investigated all complaints. Later he was entrusted with the duty to establish the ANC’s own Commission on the Constitution and prepare the ANC to participate in the negotiations that were then looming.

Upon his return to South Africa in 1990, he played a pivotal role in the negotiations for a democratic South Africa.

When the ANC got into power in 1994, we had inherited a fragmented and unaccountable governance system that consisted of separate administrations for different racial groups.

As our first democratic Public Service and Administration Minister, he championed the course for a developmental state.

It was under his sterling leadership that our government began restructuring that fragmented public service into an instrument of transformation. It should be lost in our memory that we had inherited a public service that was skewed in favour of white minority.

It was under Dr Skweyiya that we began reshaping public service and administration into a single one that serves all South Africans with dignity.

Our archives show that by the time we came into power, there was only one female chief director in the whole of the public service. It was under him that we began to actively recruit black women in Senior and Top Management positions.

That early transformation period also means Dr Skweyiya had to build a united, non-racial, efficient, ethical public service to replace a public service whose composition and content had characterised the corruption of the apartheid state.

He remained motivated by the ideals of inclusion and tolerance. That is why, there were no witch-hunts and purging of skilled, experienced personnel.

Later, as Minister of Social Development, his concern for the poor and the downtrodden was evident. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the dignity of recipients of social support from the state was respected and honoured.

When he championed an expanded social protection programme, he understood that this intervention was not an end in itself.

To him, it was one whose importance lay in bringing hope to the destitute. He understood that even though the road to the total emancipation of his people was long, they needed to have faith that their government would not forsake the vulnerable.

Consistently humble, yet straightforwardly fearless to defend the rights of the elderly and children. He understood the plight of the poor and could easily relate to its nature and form.

Dr Skweyiya understood that the arrogance of leadership serves no purpose in the advancement of peoples’ hopes and aspirations, but a source of social distance and an evil seed for trust deficit.

To best honour the legacy of this gentle giant of our struggle for freedom, we must agree that the arrogance of leadership must give way to humility.

Fellow mourners,

The loss of our stalwart is as painful as the loss of one’s piece of the body and we are poorer without his presence and wisdom. He leaves a rich legacy of intellectual rigour, of social activism, and as a man of honour.

For our part, we must acknowledge where we veered off the road and did not do things right.

Dr Skweyiya detested cliques and factions and was known always to stand above all such formations in the ANC. He expressed his unease with the developments in the South African Government.

So concerned was he, that he lent his support to the community of Stalwarts and Veterans of the ANC and was a signatory to their document, For the Sake of Our Future.

At the sunset of his life, with such a stand, he lamented that we the leaders of his beloved movement had become hostile. He despised the purging of comrades by dominant factions. And he bemoaned gate keeping, disunity, and corruption.

Together with other veterans, a door was shut for him to openly engage on issues of concern at the time. As the leadership, our preoccupation with our own sense of security, rendered him and other veterans invisible.

Still, he placed his hopes in the general membership of his organisation. He kept the faith that in the branches, brave and courageous men and women would be awakened to renew and unite his organisation and country.

Like many members of the ANC, Dr Skweyiya would have been relieved by the outcomes of the 54th Elective Conference of the ANC in December 2017.

As we mourn his passing, we wish to assure his spirit and the entirety of the veterans of the ANC that we regret some of the omissions we have committed in the service of our people.

We want to assure his spirit that the organisation he so loved and dedicated his entire adult life to, is on an irreversible path of renewal as the true and honest servant of the people.

As our journey to the healing of wounds take us to other departed stalwarts of our movement like Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Lilian Ngoyi, Govan Mbeki, Alfred Nzo, Chris Hani and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, we surrender to their grace and care the hand of their comrade-in-arms, Dr Zola Skweyiya.

We trust they will give him the comradely embrace he might have missed from us his friends.

We hope they find a way of telling him that we heard his cry. We have felt the pain of a distinguished veteran who dedicated his life to his organisation, the African National Congress.

We finally felt the pain of a towering patriot whose disappointed stare, spoke volumes about how as leaders had forsaken our sincerity, how we had forgotten our mission and in the process had gone astray.

We heard and saw his frustration about a leadership that had become blind to the suffering of the people, and became deaf to the cries of society.

And till the end of time, he maintained his faith in the unity of the working class and its ability to organise itself to reclaim its movement to advance a pro-poor programme of fundamental social change.

Yet in his tone and gestures, we still found a measured human being embodying revolutionary discipline, humility and respect for those he disagreed with.

Even late in his life, he remained stern in appearance and tone but caring and compassionate in attitude. He might have been disappointed, but he was not bitter or paralysed.

Perhaps losing hope sometimes, but certainly never despairing.

In honour of his memory, the veterans and stalwarts of the ANC should never again feel they are treated with disdain and disrespect.

We will jealously guard our cohesion as a democratic state and at all times the unity of our movement. We will protect the gains we have made in promoting the interests of the poor. We will continue to improve the quality of service delivery to our people.

We have no doubt that as Dr Skweyiya departed this world, he was satisfied of the progress we have made in the provision of houses, water, sanitation and electricity to the poor given what we had inherited.

We will not cease to work to place the people first in the workings of our government. We will always care for the destitute and ensure that no one is left behind and no child goes to bed hungry. 

We shall continue to pursue the vision of attaining a united, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous society. This is what the African National Congress stands for.

Fellow mourners,

On the death of Dr Skweyiya must rise a unique monument, the kind that Amilcar Cabral, termed constructive emulation. As he explained, Cabral meant competition, “but for well-being, not for our stomach, for us to serve our Party, our people.”

Our country needs new cadres with this constructive emulation, who will seek to outdo one another in the service of our people.

We need to outdo one another in compassion, love and support for one another, just as Dr Skweyiya and various others selflessly did, paying a huge sacrifice on our behalf.

In his memory, our young people must always live in hope that in this giant, they have inherited a country that is filled with possibilities. Their access to free higher education, opens doors for all to pursue their dreams in the fields of their choices.

In his name and in the name of our hard-won democracy, we must condemn violence against women and children, and the ill-treatment of our older persons.

As the champion of social development, this is the vision that this icon of our struggle and servant of the people, held so dear in his heart.

Mrs Skweyiya and family, please receive again our heartfelt condolences. May the good Lord save you from unending sorrow and keep you in the palm of his hand. May you gain strength even in this difficult hour of pain.

We thank you as a family for sharing this gentle giant with all of us, and for allowing him to serve humanity in the best way that he could.

To Oliver Tambo, as you hold Dr Skweyiya’s hand tightly, may you whisper to his caring ear the Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.  May the sun shine warm upon your face;  the rains fall soft upon your fields  and until we meet again,  may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

We salute you gentle giant of our struggle for freedom. May your revolutionary soul rest in enduring peace!

I thank you

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Republic of South Africa: The Presidency.
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