Friday, December 06, 2013

Ahmed Kathrada’s tribute to Mandela

December 6, 2013.

Former President Nelson Mandela joins anti-apartheid veteran 
Ahmed Kathrada on the eve of his 80th birthday. 
(Picture: Debbie Yazbek)

I never imagined I’d be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing, writes Ahmed Kathrada.

Madala, as you light-heartedly started calling me some years ago, it both grieves me and inspires me to write this to you now, with the hour of your death still a fresh wound in our peoples’ hearts.

We have known each other for 67 years, and I never imagined I’d be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing.

Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to me and so many millions of people around the world.

Your smile, which lingers still, was always from the heart, never forced, and the great joy you took in the world around you, especially in children, was unmistakeable. Most of all, you symbolise, and always will, collective leadership, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness, nation-building and a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.

Your self-confidence and absence of pettiness stands out still and is epitomised in your attitude towards opposition parties; they are not enemies but political rivals.

I had the enviable privilege of being alive and walking the earth with you through the bad times and the good. It has been a long walk, with many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable. And yet we never faltered, and the strength of leaders like you and Walter always shone a light on the path and kept our destination and our people’s future in view.

I feel bereft and lonely. To whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?

While we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we must be proud and grateful that after the long walk paved with obstacles and suffering, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end.

Farewell, my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.

Comment: A couple of years ago I met Ahmed Kathrada at the Northern Cape Writers Festival.  We were both panelists discussing the role of literature in nation-building.

We sat next to each other for about an hour and before the panel began he leaned over to me and said: "I am going to be like an old Indian uncle and ask you about your family name."

It was a heart warming moment that opened up a conversation that would go on for most of the day.

After the panel I joined him in the foyer of the hotel where he was waiting for a car to take him to the opening of an exhibition that honored his life at the McGregor Museum.  The car did not arrive and I offered to drive him and his foundation's director to the museum.

He accepted and I immediately warned him that my car was a small VW Citi Golf and, therefore, nothing special.

He laughed heartily as we walked to the car in the parking lot of his hotel where he was staying.  "Don't worry about how small your car is I drive around in one even smaller", he said to me.

In the car he started to talk about President Mandela and their friendship.  He also asked me questions about PAC leader Robert Sobukwe and his life in Kimberley.

I listened closely to his words that conveyed a genuine dedication to his friendship with Mandela.  It was not just an ordinary friendship and it reminded me of the friendship my dad had with Robert Sobukwe.

This morning I awoke at around 7am after going to bed quite early.  Still in bed I looked at my emails on my cell and first read about the passing of Madiba from a former student of mine at Portland State University.

The news did not shock me because like most South Africans the inevitability of his passing continued to linger from the last time he was admitted to hospital.

Just before breakfast I walked outside in our garden and noticed that today being Friday the garbage was being collected.  After breakfast I drove to the Northern Cape legislature where I have an office and saw black workers digging a trench to install fiber optic cables.

All the usual convenience stores were open and people were walking kids to school or waiting for a taxi along the way.

The mood at the legislature was somber.  Most of the staff attended a prayer memorial in honor of the life of Madiba.

Just before 11:30am I left my office for the day and bid farewell to the skeleton staff that remained.  The mood remained somber.

My point in relaying these seeming innocuous or mundane details is to impress upon those outside and those who have been warning of a post-Mandela apocalypse that life in the delusional republic has continued much the same as it did after the unbanning of the liberation movements and when Mandela became the first democratically elected president in 1994.

There is a lot wrong with South Africa and none of it can be decontextualized from apartheid.  Today, however, is not about what is wrong with the fabled rainbow nation but what has always been right.

We are not primarily a vindictive and hateful nation.  President Mandela embodied this humane spirit and even where I have virulently disagreed with his politics there never really was room to question his human spirit.

It is a sad day for all.  But it is also a day that should remind us that the struggle is far from over.  A lot of work needs to be done and the movement that created Mandela must be wrestled away from the self-serving and corrupt folks that pilfer its ranks.  

When I broke the news to my mom about Madiba's passing this morning she stood silent for what seemed a long time.  "It is a sad day but he has contributed so much in a long life.  None of us live forever," she said before turning to walk away.

Before I left the breakfast table the moms looked at me and said: "Today would have been Uncle Robert's (Sobukwe) birthday."

It was then that I felt even more sad.  Both men were giants in the struggle and I want to remember the huge contributions that both men have made to rid us of the scourge of apartheid whenever I feel like my life has no meaning.

I have a favorite Mandela quote that drew my admiration for him from the days I joined the school boycotts in the early 80s.  It is a passage taken from his defence statement at the Rivonia trial in 1964 (the year I was born):
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
There is much to be admired in this convicted spirit and it presses us to move forward to that "cherished ideal".

Hamba Kahle President Mandela, until that day.

 Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)



msg4277 said...

Thank you for posting this I put in on my facebook page. I hope you are well, peace and blessings, Professor..

Mike Giryotas

Ridwan said...

Hi Mike:

It has certainly been a very long time since we last chatted - Portland State University in 2007 if my memory serves me right.

I trust you are well my brother and that you are still fighting the good fight.

Thank you for cross-posting my post.

I am well Mike and hope one day our paths cross again.

Onward! brother,

Margaret Banyan said...

Thank you for this. The juxtaposition of small kindnesses and big ideas seems apparent.

Ridwan said...

Hi there Margaret:

Thank you kindly for your comment.

You make an excellent point. Sometimes we get lost in the big gestures and forget that life - meaningful life - is filled with "small kindnesses" as you say.

I trust you are well.

Miss you,

msg4277 said...

I am well, thank you. I am a single father, now residing in Wisconsin. I do hope our paths will cross again, I say this with an open heart, your teaching was instrumental in changing my life, and subsequently my son's life. Blessings, stay safe.

Ridwan said...

Hi Mike:

Thank you kindly for telling me about you and your son.

And thank you for your gracious words about my teaching.

I have never been to Wisconsin but if the course of life takes me up there I will drop you a line.

Please keep in touch.

Peaceful blessings to you too my brother.


Pstonie said...

So you keep the same opinion of free speech as the ANCYL. To paraphrase: "We believe in free speech unless it's used to say something negative about our leaders."

You gotta know that you have your head up your ass when you're agreeing with not only the CNN, but the ANCYL as well. Mix yourself with the bran and the pigs will eat you.

This thing that you are worshipping like a god was a terrorist piece of shit and then a puppet to globalist powers. Compost will be his most valuable contribution to humanity.

Good luck with the cant.

Ridwan said...

PStonie you are a long time commenter here on my blog. Today however I find your comment to be offensive and unnecessarily rude.

In as long as you have commented here have I ever replied to you in the manner that you spit vitriol and cuss words here?

I have no problems with you disagreeing with a post but you are crossing the line of civil and decent debate and if you decide to continue to engage in this manner I will not respond to you.

That said I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Have you actually read the post - where in the post do you see me agreeing with the ANCYL and CNN?

Nonetheless, your hatred for Mandela is curious. Curious because he saved you and yours from what could have been an ugly fate in South Africa.

Most white people recognize that Mandela and the leaders of the ANC gave white folks a get out of jail free card.

Twenty years ago you were just a boy - not even a teenager. It boggles my mind that you would hate Mandela so much that you would steep to the depths of the two comments you have left here today.

Where do you get off telling me who I worship "like a god"?

I am disappointed in you just like most decent folks would be.

Your attitude is simply a crass display of rude arrogance.


Pstonie said...

I am referring to the first comment I made to this post, that was retained in the censorship barrier, hence my second comment, which has appeared here. The ANCYL said something very similar to what I quoted above when someone made fun of their leader. Censorship irks me quite a bit. Like you said I am a long time commenter here and though we have disagreed many times on some pretty basic issues, to my recollection you have never found any of my opinions scary enough to pretend that they never existed.

CNN similarly holds him up as some kind of saint, when he is in fact the dictionary definition of a terrorist: Trash that murders innocent civilians because they don't have the guts or the skills to take on their enemy. Not to mention that the start of his reign marked the beginning of legendary government corruption, and a soaring murder rate. They just leave that part out and pretend that his empty words and eight years of lies make him a saint.

Get out of jail free card? Really? First of all, he was clearly in it for the profit, so once he was HANDED the country, he had everything he wanted. Funny how he and his cronies were awarded a wedge of the mines, and international corporations got the rest? It's the crumbs his children and grandchildren were fighting over before he was officially dead.

Secondly, I can only assume that you're referring to mass murder of white people at the hands of black people. I think in that you are ascribing a level of racism and blood lust to black people which are outside the bounds of reality. People who actually want to harm others are always the minority, and most of them are just interested in getting others to do the killing for them.

I don't hate him, either. As far as hazardous substances go, he was pretty benign during most of my life. It's the 24-7 reel of bullshit in the media that I find annoying.

Sorry about the god thing. I'm not a religious person and forgot that the word means a lot more to you. For me it's associated with some (probably alien) member of a pantheon from some long since collapsed empire. Strange that I was raised christian and don't first associate it with what is described as the biggest mass murderer in history. Too much stargate, probably.

Ridwan said...

Pstonie I did not receive the "first comment" you posted. I have no reason to censor you. Not now and not in the past.

But that aside your comments appear today as you sent - there were three his morning (now that I am checking).

Your analysis of Mandela is shared by others particularly right-wing ideologues and conspiracy theorists.

Continued below:


Ridwan said...

After the Sharpeville Massacre both the ANC and PAC declared a war on the SA stare. It was to be limited to state apparatuses but like in all wars innocents were killed.

What the TRC established is that innocents were killed on both sides and President Mandela accepted that. He did not agree that MK targeted innocents. And there was no express policy to kill innocents in any ANC/PAC documents.

Still on average the murder by the apartheid regime was less contained in all terms. There is hardly a black or brown family in SA that can't attest to its brutality and the reach of its deathly violence.

Importantly though, the purpose of reconciliation was not to set up a kind of Olympics about who suffered most.

Your comment about the outcome of the neoliberal agreement cannot be generally faulted in its overview.

A few black and white elite and international capital/corporations have decidedly got the best out of the end of apartheid. The fault lies with greedy capitalists and a world system dominated by neoliberals.

It is a thought that comes to mind when I see poor black and white men/women and children begging at streets lights or erecting shacks like they are doing in my street as I write.

The state has failed to meet the most basic human needs and the upliftment of the poor.

I make no reference to a massacre of whites.

Africa Check recently evaluated the nonsense of a black on white genocide and rubbished the claim.

It does not help whites in any way to make up or trump-up the fear of a black on white genocide.

Just yesterday I watched a young white woman sing with the police band at a memorial for Mandela here in Kimberley.

She sang in many languages including Afrikaans and Xhosa and she was amazing. I kept thinking she needs a record deal and the crowd seemed to agree. She was called back several times as people cheered for in an audience where you could count the number of whites on one hand.

It mattered little that she was white but it was inescapably a post-apartheid moment. In the past we all interacted in mostly hostile and racist contexts.

This era is not wonderful but it is decidedly better than apartheid.

There simply is no special humiliation and murder intent aimed at whites by blacks in SA. It is a scaremonger myth to claim otherwise.

Crime afflicts us all and so does corrupt and inefficient governance.

You are right that not all whites supported apartheid. In the liberation movements there were whites who played pivotal roles. The same is true for those in churches and other civil society organizations.

Still this presence does not disprove the rule that all whites benefited from apartheid in structural terms and this is true even today.

What is needed in SA is not a refinement of race politics. We need a greater resistance based on dialectical resistance that moves forward or Onward! as I write with each post.

What this means is that nothing is constant and therefore the move toward resistance and ultimate emancipation for all must take each step forward as a calculated act.

I have raised my qualms here but also recognize that Mandela cannot solely bear the responsibility for what happened before and after 1994.

We need closer scrutiny. And that scrutiny is in place - particularly among the disaffected and poor who are growing increasingly restless.

The strength of the past two decades is found in the emphasis on confronting the past. It has not been a perfect ideal but it has saved a general collapse.

Still, no confrontation is done or ever complete - we need to know more and think about progress as ideas and ideals decontextualised from individuals.

Not to do so will weigh us down forever. I say this knowing just how difficult it is to live for ideals and ideas without seeing the frailty of what it means to be human.

Thanks for your comment Pstonie.


Pstonie said...

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Let us say that google ate my first comment, because it wouldn't be the first time. Maybe I got the captcha wrong and didn't notice. If this is the case, I apologise profusely. I assure you my first comment was much more diplomatic in accusing the ex president of being a mass-murdering coward.

I'd like to be clear that I am referring to the bombings that were executed by the MK, that mandela admitted to mobilising. These were bombs planted in public places, killing and maiming civilians going about their day. Black and white civilians, notoriously. I don't care how incompetent the MK leaders were at the time (their incompetence has since proven to be legendary), no one is going to mistake a public bombing as something that will hurt the apartheid government or something that will improve race relations, nor something that will convince anyone that the MK's goals were anything other than violence. These cannot be mistaken for acts of war, they are textbook acts of actual terrorism, and they probably benefited the apartheid government more than anyone else.

In my book there's no excuse for such behaviour, no matter how many ineffectual politically correct circle jerks mandela was involved in afterwards. 27 years is a slap on the wrist for what he took from those people. That the far-right is saying the same things don't make them any less true, because even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Ridwan said...

Well Google is so dominant an interface in our communications these days that I think it is time for me to retract.

Even my cell (Samsung) is a Google piece.

All of it is worrying especially if you have followed the revelations of Google's cosying up to and financing a right-wing conservative agenda.

Mandela and company have admitted that most of what started out as MK was amateurish. But keep in mind that the liberation movements were non-violent for more time than the period after the massacre at Sharpeville.

By your measurement all apartheid's foot soldiers should have been hung for the mass massacre that the system represented. And, they should have begun with PW and Pik and worked their way down to the petty officials who oversaw what was a horrific system.

What MK and Poqo did does not even come close to the massacres that propped up white oppression from the time of the first entrance in the 1500s through 1990s.

Worse if you dispense with the nation as a container and apply the thinking to a global condemnation of what white racism has done since its inception in the early 1500s.

But that is not the way it played out as you in any context.

Today it seems more reasonable to vent against systems of oppression of which the ideological construct of whiteness is just one - and you don't have to be white (in race terms) to be subsumed by that system.

More important today is to build coalitions of resistance against all dehumanizing aspects of life - it is not an easy struggle and most of us will grow disillusioned.

Be well Pstonie.


Pstonie said...

So what you're saying is "they started it"? They were way worse? The defenders of the modern day actions of the israeli government have to resort to the same excuses, because they are trying to defend actions which are indefensible. Do you also suggest more random violence in retaliation for marikana, because it too was precipitated by the systematic destruction of the poor, executed by the government that brought it about?

If you are aware of what they did, why pretend that I must have come up with some new metaphysical meaning for the word "terrorist" to call mandela one? He's the real deal, unlike some other productions of the world media. It's no justification that he spent his retirement years playing oprah, while the country supposedly under his command started a clear decline in every area except wealth concentration.

Speaking of PW and pik, I think a proper treatment for warmongers would be that they had to take part in their own wars as soldiers. They could do a live fire re-enactment of Angola. Mandela and zuma could do the other side, with juju carrying water. FW could sell cigarettes instead of countries. Get a few cameras, and maybe jeff probst. Huge ratings in that.

Ridwan said...

PStonie you are reducing the struggle to a sarcastic rant that is far removed from the despair that the oppressed endured and consequently reacted to.

Now you have even appropriated the Palestinian struggle to make your point and in so doing you lose the overall plot even further.

By your stretch of the imagination you would declare Yasser Arafat or any young Palestinian 'militant' a terrorist.

You do the same with the Marikana massacre which if you read it right is more about white (international) capital interests than the ANC or SA governments interests.

What happened there is absolutely wrong but does not offer you room to support and argument that Mandela is a terrorist.

It does however allow you to cast the ANC/government as terrorists by using Mandela as a racist prop which is quite clear in your overall position.

Yet curiously you see PW and Pik as needing to fight in the "war" they were mongering. This more than implies that you considered the apartheid state to be authentic and therefore their acts of murder and mayhem - even where you disagree - was in fact acts of war and not terrorism.

Do you forget that the apartheid state was the result of land theft that begun with colonialism? How can a thieving entity have more right to declare war than those who were its victims?

Boggles my mind that you even think in these terms but maybe the implications are not drawn.

If you even came close to appreciating what black folk went through in this country you would not be slinging the offensive terrorism label at Mandela and those who waged a non-violent struggle until it could bear no fruits.

It is little wonder that people of color look upon those who use similar arguments as totally unrepentant.

Terrorism is a politicized term as is the term terrorist. In Sharpeville the apartheid regime killed 69 innocents many of them women running away and shot in the back.

If the ANC killed a total of 69 whites in its entire period of armed struggle it would be a shocking statistic that needs closer attention.

In the Soweto Riots the apartheid regime opened fire on children. Even today the numbers of kids that were killed are still a major contention.

President Mbeki's son disappeared in the Soweto massacre. I wonder if he is a terrorist in your book too since he was part of the armed struggle period.

And what about Sobukwe? Poqo was the armed wing of the PAC. Do you consider Sobukwe a terrorist too?

It is very likely given the lopsided reasoning that you press here.

Where in the armed struggle did the ANC or the PAC go to white schools and kill children.

That is not to say that any life is more important than any other.

I remember when PAC operatives in the early 90s exploded a device in a church and a bar somewhere in observatory. I also remember the much talked about bomb at a Wimpy that killed innocents.

These are isolated incidents even though the death of any innocents must be rightly condemned.

The apartheid state and the Zionist state - which has used chemical weapons against civilians - is not in the same category and you are making a foolish argument to even draw parallels.

**continued below**

Ridwan said...

Mandela was no saint and it is not for me to defend him and in a democracy you must be allowed to think as you want.

But I also think that those who take offensive positions like yours should come out under the cloak of anonymity and live openly among the people (online too) so that you are known.

At the very least openly engage the victims of apartheid and tell them you think their struggle heroes are terrorists.

It is the courageous thing to do to stand by your convictions and live by its consequences.

That is what Mandela did. And he has taken responsibility for the past and attempted to move forward.

What have you done? Or more importantly what are those who think that Mandela was a terrorist done to atone for the historical massacre that is whiteness in South Africa and beyond?

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and pontificate and be sarcastic about the real consequences of apartheid.

It is another thing to actually have lived those consequences and to bear the scars of the struggle.

You too young to be so flippant about what you think about a very painful part of our history.

Apartheid was ugly and dehumanizing and in that recent memory Nelson Mandela stood for its destruction and that does not make him a terrorist.

To argue on the contrary is simply wrong.

Yet it does not take much to find this kind of mindset on the Internet in news forums like News24.

Ironically those among us who think that Mandela bent over to appease whites are probably saying "I told you so - we gave too much away."

I don't want to be caught up in that argument and prefer to think and act on the idea that a greater justice can be reached if the confrontation over the past is about a collective humanity.

In that thinking I am more than willing to set aside my concerns with Mandela's historical role in negotiating the end of apartheid.

What is more important now is to build a more positive and inclusive nation-state that does not devolve into the madness that is whiteness.


Pstonie said...

I'm starting to see those scars you're talking about. It seems impossible for you to separate anything I'm saying from the issues of race. I'm speaking of killing humans with bombs, people that never did anything to the perpetrators. I'm speaking of actions which have no other outcome except more violence and more hate.

If you're talking about that minority of the palestinians that regularly fire bottle rockets into empty israeli fields so that the IDF has an "excuse" to cluster bomb another palestinian neighbourhood in retaliation, yes, I would call them terrorists. A better name would be idiots, but only because there's no suitable translation for "fokken onnosel". It's a good analogy for the MK bombings, because the only thing achieved is to make things infinitely worse, with absolutely no upside. A great analogy, because they too probably work for the israeli government.

But it's clear now that the apartheid stuggle is all about the belief that two wrongs make a right.

Land theft? You should be aware that if the first owners of this land decided to kick off everyone that came after, your man mandela would be just as homeless as you and I.

Please don't imply that I support the apartheid government. I was referring to actual warmongering, including Angola. There are things that have happened in the world that was not apartheid, things that have resulted in much more death and suffering.

The context in which you use the word "unrepentant" suggests again that you feel all white people should feel remorse for apartheid. Understand this: I. Did. Not. Do. That. Did I benefit from it? I got a matric certificate from SA in the years when it was worth more than a lie, so probably. Does that make apartheid my fault? NO. I was also born into affirmative action, does that also make it my fault? Does that mean when this country has come to its senses that I must spend the next 30 years feeling remorse for something an incompetent politician did in my name? I am not comparing apartheid to affirmative action. I'm making a point about sins of the father (which were not even my father's sins) which, curiously, is something the defenders of the israeli government don't seem to get either.

I suggest you look up the bombings that were mobilised by mandela, because there were a hell of a lot more than the ones you seem to know about. Then I suggest you look up the word terrorist in the dictionary. It HAS become a politicised and watered-down term, but don't fear because mandela fills the actual definition of a random mass murderer of civilians.

Let's bottom line this: Apartheid was a crime against humanity. And here is the only point I've been trying to make: Retaliation with more crimes against humanity was not, is not, will never be an effective or a morally justifiable response. The cruelty of the other side does not make the perpetrators of similar cruelty heroes, and it sure as hell doesn't imbue them with the ability to run a country.

PS: Why is it so easy to draw parallels between the ZOG and the apartheid struggle? I never noticed this before. Maybe it's because we're talking about people who are now completely intellectually immobilised by a pervading victim mentality based on something that happened decades ago, who use their past as a justification for unjustifiable acts.

Ridwan said...

Pstonie please don't lecture me on what I need to look up to bolster or prove your baseless arguments.

If your purpose here is to school anyone I suggest you start with yourself first.

If you know of documented instances where "mandela fills the actual definition of a random mass murderer of civilians" then let the world know and do so in your own name.

Anonymity is really nothing more than self-defined censorship and we all know how much you hate censorship given your commentary here.

The same is true for advancing anti-Semitic (Zog) posturing/theories - it is troubling to say the least and yet you seem oblivious to the racism implied.

Be assured you won't in this lifetime convince me of your views because I have heard it all before.

And, I could care less about what you think about my apartheid scars or its relevance/weight in my thinking.

But you have the right to believe whatever you want no matter how ridiculous it may be in fact.

This is one of the democratic privileges afforded to you by the liberation struggle against apartheid - a struggle that Mandela and the ANC were a definitive part of no matter what you may choose to believe.

I'm done with this particular interaction though you are free to continue of course.

No disrespect to you as an individual but we getting nowhere but going around in foretold circles.

Peace nonetheless,

Pstonie said...

How is referring to the zionist occupational government racist? I have a problem with the actions of the government of israel, not with people who choose to label themselves "jew". Too fine a point? Understandable. Regrettable. Instructive. FYI, the jewish people are a nation, not a race. Too fine a point...

Similarly I would enquire as to how anonymity equals censorship. Censorship pertains to the content, not to the personality which disseminates it. It would be censorship if I used the MK's definition of a military target for a shopping mall or movie theater, when I knew it was false. It would be censorship if I cared more about the thin veneer of symbolism behind the image of mandela and what it means to the poor, than what actually happened. Were I more anonymous here, my skin colour not known, everything I say might not be so quickly dismissed as racism, even where that term clearly does not apply. Perhaps I would then be a "self-hating person of colour". Ha. Little JIDF joke there.

On the subject of racism, I inform you that something like this is overtly racist:
"What is more important now is to build a more positive and inclusive nation-state that does not devolve into the madness that is whiteness."

Edited here, so that you may see it. Imagine someone said something like this:
"What is more important now is to build a more positive and inclusive nation-state that does not devolve into the madness that is blackness."

But some are more equal than others, eh?

We are in agreement on this argument; I will better invest my time on a video game.

I cannot wish you good luck in this greeting. No free society can be built on racism, selective memory or the cult of personality. This is why we are not free. This is why the rainbow nation's foundations have rotted out from under it.