Mendi Msimang

EULOGY BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA AT THE SPECIAL OFFICIAL FUNERAL OF THE LATE MR MENDI MSIMANG

Programme Directors,
Former President Kgalema Motlanthe,
Ministers, Deputy Ministers,
Premiers, MECs,
Members of the judiciary,
Members of the Msimang family,
Comrades,
Friends,
Fellow South Africans,

We are gathered here in solemn mourning to pay our last respects to a great South African whose life was dedicated to the cause of freedom.

Mendi Msimang was the embodiment of an idea that is simple in conception, but revolutionary in application – the idea that one’s purpose in life is to serve others.

Throughout a rich and meaningful life, wherever he found himself, whatever responsibilities he was given, he was bound by a determination to serve others.

He had no need for riches. He had no need for recognition.

His only need was to break the shackles of the oppressed; to feed, house and comfort those who had nothing.

His only need was to forge unity where there was division, to bring calm where there was chaos, and to promote understanding where there was intolerance.

His only need was to liberate his people from the bondage of apartheid and the enduring tyranny of poverty.

Mendi Msimang was one of a remarkable generation of freedom fighters, a generation whose deeds will reverberate across the ages.

It was a generation that transformed the national liberation movement and changed the course of our struggle, a generation that endured the hardship of exile and prison and banishment.

It was a generation that not only held the liberation movement together as the forces of apartheid sought to dismember it, but which built it into a formidable mass movement at the head of a global campaign for a democratic South Africa.

It was this generation that was prominent among those who led the country to democracy and freedom.

Today, as we mourn the passing of one of the great leaders of that generation, it would be a mistake to relegate them to history.

Certainly, most of the members of that generation may have exited the political stage, but the principles they fought for, the values they lived by and the means by which they sought their objectives still find resonance at this moment in our history.

As we confront new and daunting challenges, as we attend to the erosion of the revolutionary morality that long defined our struggle, we must draw strength and inspiration and guidance from the deeds of those leaders.

The time for leaders like Mendi Msimang has not passed.

It has barely begun.

The material temptations of political office have never been greater than they are today.

As our people have realised, and as our movement has acknowledged, there are those among us who seek positions of authority not to serve the public good, but to advance private interests.

There are those who are prepared to undermine the institutions of our young democracy, to subvert the rule of law and to steal from the people to enrich themselves.

This cannot be countenanced and this cannot be allowed to continue.

It is at precisely this moment that we need leaders, cadres, public servants and business people of the calibre of Mendi Msimang.

We need people who, like him, are truly selfless in their service.

We need people like him, with an abiding honesty and an essential integrity.

For 10 years, he served as the Treasurer-General of the African National Congress, a position more difficult and more hazardous than any other in the movement.

In that time, he was scrupulous in his determination that not one cent go missing, that no resources meant for the transformational programmes of the organisation be misappropriated or wasted.

It is this quality that we seek in our leaders today.

Comrades and Friends,

Mendi Msimang was an envoy for freedom.

As the chief representative of the ANC in the United Kingdom, he was a dedicated and capable advocate for the cause of the South African people.

Especially when faced with hostile opinion, he sought – patiently and with deliberate care – to explain the positions of the African National Congress.

He was not one to dismiss others because their views may be reactionary or ill-informed.

He sought to persuade them, understanding that it was the responsibility of his revolutionary movement to win to its cause the broadest possible range of social forces.

But that was not the only reason.

He sought to persuade others because he was not prepared to give up on another human being.

He was driven by a firm conviction that every person has the capacity to do good, to see sense, to make a meaningful contribution to society.

He had a remarkable ability to see beyond their prejudice, their anger, their frailties and to recognise their essential being.

For that, he was much loved and widely admired.

When he returned to London, this time as the democratic South Africa’s first High Commissioner to the Court of St James’s, he did so with a completely different mandate, but employed many of the same methods.

While it is certainly true that he no longer organised protests outside South Africa House, he used his good offices within the building to advance the cause of a free and democratic South Africa.

He argued with great eloquence and conviction that while it was true that the South African people had achieved the overthrow of apartheid and established a democratic state, the legacy of centuries of dispossession and exploitation endured.

He sought the support of the British government and people – and indeed the broader international community – for the reconstruction of South Africa, for the growth and transformation of its economy, and for the empowerment of its people through skills and jobs.

Over two decades later, these remain the most important tasks that we, as a nation, must undertake.

We must attend to these tasks with the same vigour and application that Mendi Msimang did.

We must seek, as he always did, to build consensus on the measures we must necessarily take to transform our economy and our society.

We must confront, as he would have, the difficult choices that need to be made to turn around an economy that has faltered and to fix the public institutions that have been weakened.

We must retain, as he would have, our focus on the overriding task to create jobs and tackle poverty.

We must forge a social compact that is founded on the incontrovertible reality that none of us can prosper unless we all prosper.

We must forge a social compact that recognises that the enormity of the challenges ahead of us require that we all pull in the same direction.

This is what Mendi Msimang was good at, building bridges, forging alliances and resolving differences.

That is why we say that the time for leaders like Mendi Msimang has not passed.

He was a person of great modesty and dignity.

He treated others with respect, was moderate in demeanour and measured in his address.

These may be commendable personality traits, but they are also profoundly political.

They are among the qualities that we should seek in a revolutionary.

One cannot be a revolutionary if one does not respect others.

One cannot be a revolutionary if one is intolerant of other views, or if insult and invective are the only means of persuasion one can marshal.

Those who worked with him remember both fondly and sometimes with frustration how meticulous he was.

They recall his commitment to proper syntax and correct spelling and his ability to debate the placement of a comma.

This was a sign not only of a sound education, but also of a rigorous discipline that extended from the writing of a letter to the prosecution of the struggle.

Like many of his generation, Mendi Msimang paid a heavy price for his commitment to the struggle.

The nation owes his family a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they made and the absences they endured.

We extend to the family our deepest condolences for their sad loss and their selfless sacrifice of giving up their parental claim to their father, grandfather, brother, and patriarch to the service of the people of South Africa.

The family, like all of us, assume a great responsibility to carry forward his legacy, characterised by a deep sense of loyalty, commitment, love and selflessness to all the people of our country, especially the poor.

Mendi Msimang, stalwart of our movement, giant of our struggle, unassuming hero of our people, is no more.

As we mourn his passing, we commend and we celebrate a life lived in the service of others.

As we bid him farewell, we repeat that the time for leaders like Mendi Msimang has not passed.

In his memory, let us pledge, as our forbearers did in Kliptown, that we will strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until we reach our goal of a united, free and prosperous South Africa.

May his soul rest in peace. May his abundant legacy endure.

Hamba Kahle, Qhawe lama Qhawe.

I thank you.

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