Professor Firoz Cachalia stood tall on Wednesday night when he told a hall full of people at the Ahmed Kathrada memorial service in Pretoria that “it is true that Comrade Kathy, before he died … he expressed the view that the president of the country and the president of the African National Congress (ANC) should not attend his funeral”.
“You have to understand what brought someone like Comrade Kathy – a cautious man a principled man – to say that. How does a man like that come to a point where he has to make such an extraordinary demand that the president of his movement should not appear at his funeral?
“I have come to admire Comrade Mcebisi Jonas, and when they say a bribe was offered in exchange for a position in our Cabinet, the people’s Cabinet, I have absolutely no doubt [that is true],” Cachalia said.
“Comrade Pravin is also a man of unimpeachable integrity who has faced unbelievable obstacles since his appointment to cabinet.
“That is the reason that Comrade Pravin was removed from his position, after which we received this downgrade; [there has come] the realisation that the relationship between him and the president has broken down.
“It appears to many of us that the reason for that breakdown was that Comrade Pravin was a man of integrity like Comrade Kathy.”
Cachalia said it was correct that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe had called for unity, but that unity had to be principled.
“The question is, what are we being asked to unite around? You should never be in a position where you place individuals in positions of having to choose between their party and their conscience,” Cachalia said to loud applause.
Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa said he only got to know Kathrada after he was released from Robben Island.
Addressing Gordhan, the keynote speaker, he said: “History will say that you and Comrade Mcebesi Jonas were men of integrity.”
He said one of the biggest challenges was lack of adequate leadership. Some were in positions they should not be in.
“I listened to our president when he called for a new revolution, radical social transformation.
“If you look at the issue that has to be addressed, poverty, unemployment and all the ills that are facing us, it is definitely true, but if you look at those challenges you will realise that people that lead that revolution cannot be corrupt. If you are corrupt you are fighting against yourself. If you are dishonest, lazy, a factionalist and someone who is causing a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in society, you cannot lead this revolution,” Mkhatshwa said.
Gordhan received a standing ovation as he entered the hall and when he took centre stage. He said older leaders told them the struggle against apartheid was not a struggle against white people. The struggle of apartheid was against the system.
He said the generation of Rivonia trialists had told them you had to be selfless, but today people only thought about themselves and their families.
“It takes something to say you can kill me if you like, but I am going to stand by what I believe,” he said.
“His life is also an example of principles. Sometimes many of us think to be a so-called politician is to be a perpetual liar. There is a thing you can learn from this generation, that your conscience should guide you,” Gordhan said to loud applause.
“Let’s look at the last 10 days. We were on a road trip and most of you thought a road show is a radio show. I have not been fired; I have been relieved of my responsibilities. From Trevor Manuel’s time you go out to people who are willing to lend us money. This year we need to borrow R100 million dollars. That is a lot of money.
“Some people deliberately don’t want to understand that these road shows are very important. A lot has happened in South Africa in a short space of time. There is this new phenomenon that if the rand falls, all you have to do is pick it up,” Gordhan said.
“You have the democratic right to list your views. I am not here to mobilise you against anybody. I am here to respect the life and understand and read a lot more about the life of Ahmed Kathrada and to teach your children about him.
“I am here to join the team of people that are speaking here to say let’s work together to better this country. We don’t have Trump yet and we don’t have Brexit yet, so if we get things right we have the potential to grow 4% to 5%, create jobs, to indeed achieve radical transformation that benefits everybody.
“Some people are interpreting my appearance on this platform and the revival of my activism. This is not about Mcebesi Jonas or Gordhan saying I want my job back. I don’t want my job back.
“I was supposed to retire a long time ago. So don’t align me. Your integrity is the only thing left at the end of the day,” he said.
“We want to see a united and democratic ANC and a party that truly represent the aspirations of all of us and it is a dream I truly hope we fulfil. There are different forms of injustice where women get raped in taxis, where somebody is discriminated against and where two people get driven off the road and then burned.”
Gordhan said being in a position of authority did not mean you could abuse your power, and it did mean citizens could react against that abuse.
“If you see the phenomenon of state capture happens in front of you, where key institutions fall into the hands of the wrong people, what do you do? Do you keep quiet or do you speak out?”
He reiterated that he did not apply for his job.
“I was asked by some people to stay on even after the false charges [were brought],” he said.