It woud be a great disservice if I did not start this tribute to one of the legends of the ANC by raising my fist to the sky and loudly proclaiming “Amandla”.
I would sing a revolutionary song that kept us strong during fees must fall and kept the revolutionary spirit of defiance alive in the corridors of the island, however one thing I have not been able to do is lead revolutionary songs.
To Comrade Barbara, a soldier of MK, an extra ordinary revolutionary and lifetime companion of our Uncle Kathy,
The executive director of the foundation Comrade Shan Balton and everyone else at the foundation.
I am deeply honoured to say a few words here today. I would be lying if I said it was easy to stand here and speak about our beloved uncle Kathy. It is a mammoth task to, in 6 minutes, sum up what uncle Kathy means to us as young people. It is even more difficult to in 6 minutes observe all protocol. So I will take this moment to declare “All protocol observed”.
It was just last year during this very month of August that Uncle Kathy stood next to me at the foundations visit to the grave sites of Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu and Rahima Moosa as we paid tribute to these mothers of our struggle.
And it was just last year also in this very month that I sat next to Mam Emma Mashinini on a panel discussion, she signed my copy of her book ‘Strikes have followed my whole life’, and in her inscription she writes that her and Uncle K are in the departure lounge of life, and that as young comrades it is up to us to carry on the struggle. Whilst reading ‘Conversations with a gentle soul’, I found the reference to the departure lounge again.
But still, little did I realise that both these giants would be joining the A team as uncle Kathy called it, the A team of the ANC, the A team of our struggle, the A team of liberation in Africa. They warned us, but we did not want to believe them.
We did not want to believe them because we drew comfort from their presence.
And with their passing we again lose fountains of revolutionary wisdom, we lose a guiding hand and a comforting voice.
We did not want to believe them because their passing marked the change of an era that has already been over for longer than we would like to admit.
An era where those who served us, despite dedicating their lives to the struggle, would still have the humility to say that their only regret has been that they could have not (could have done more or could not have done more please check this one out) done more.
Nowadays it is less about doing more and more about who gets the recognition for what was done.
It is less about vision and more about rhetoric.
It is less about consistency and more about political theatrics.
Beyond his struggle credentials uncle Kathy taught us that with freedom comes responsibility…
When I was in hospital last year after my experience of police brutality during the Fees Must Fall protests, Uncle Kathy took time to come and visit me.
Unlike many others who came he did not come there to lecture me. He came with flowers. He held my hand. He sat with me while I cried and explained what had happened to us. He was not there for any other reason than to give us strength in a difficult time, when we were at our lowest.
There were moments when he freely told us what he felt. He was never shy to air his honest opinions, even if they were not what people wanted to hear. But at the heart of it all, he understood our plight, he understood that being intelligent is still not good enough if you are poor and black. He never shied away from the fact that our history is a nightmare from which we are still trying to awake.
Throughout his life it was clear that he cared deeply about structural change so much so that he was prepared to serve life imprisonment for it, this was a conscious decision. We sometimes forget that and in doing so we fail to understand how revolutionary uncle Kathy was. This mistake is one we often make as well with Madiba and others. These were people who were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in even though they were in positions to make other choices.
What we also forget when we celebrate these great human beings is that they were not necessarily happy with the outcomes, when uncle Kathy was asked by a journalist if he was happy with the progress we have made in 20 years he answered with what he described more or less as Madiba would say, “No. We have achieved quite a lot, positive things, but I can’t say I’m happy. I can only be happy when I can be sure that every child goes to bed with a full stomach, gets up smiling, has a proper breakfast, wears proper clothing, has proper transport to school and goes to a proper school.”
And that brings me to my final responsibility speaking here today, which is to amplify the advice that uncle Kathy would consistently give to young people and that is to take full advantage of our democracy and the opportunities that it offers especially in the field of education because we have a responsibility to achieve that reality which would have made uncle Kathy and every other struggle hero especially the unsung heroes, happy.
We must also learn from uncle Kathy that we all have a societal responsibility to continue fighting and ensure, that under our watch we affirm and demand that
No student or learner must go to bed hungry,
No girl child must miss school because of a lack of sanitary pads,
No women is scared to walk around for fear of being raped robbed and murdered,
No parent has to endure the indignity of not being able to provide for their children
No state resources end up in a circle of patronage and political cronies at the expense of the people
The wealth of the land is no longer controlled by a select few at the expense and exploitative labour of a few
The list can go on but we must ensure that we fight for these demands.
And to do this we will resist, for as Ulrike Marie Meinhof said protest is when you say this does not please me resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more.
Our freedom comes with the responsibility to achieve what would have made them happy with the same humility that they embodied. That to me is perhaps the most important of the many lessons we can learn from the lives of these giants, whose shoulders we have the privilege and honour to stand on.
May Allah grant Uncle Kathy the highest stages in Paradise.