The name Ahmed Kathrada is not unknown. It is impossible to talk of Nelson Mandela or the group of Rivonia Trialists and omit Ahmed Kathrada. The former Robben Islander, also affectionately referred to as ‘Uncle Kathy’ has rightfully earned his revered place in South Africa’s liberation history. In later years his Lenasia-based Foundation identifies the central focus of his life-pursuit as working for the advancement of non-racialism. However, this undeniable stalwart of the liberation struggle in death attests a strangely reimagined legacy if not identity.
His funeral a solemn moment in both ANC and SA combined histories became an uncharacteristic display of ANC factionalised politics engineered by nothing less than self-interest. At the height of the SAVE-SA campaign with a distinct and unusual presence of ‘whites’ participating, Kathrada penned a letter to former president Zuma requesting him to step down. Kathrada’s claim was ‘the masses have spoken.’ Some of us who commented at the time challenged Kathrada’s unequivocal claim of ‘the masses have spoken’ as uninformed and a misreading of the influence of apartheid’s white identity on what is recorded in mainstream media.
Come the time of his funeral we learned Kathrada requested ANC and SA president Zuma not to speak at his funeral. Incidentally, this moment in 2017 coincided with a period when Zuma decided to exercise a cabinet reshuffle that saw among others Pravin Gordhan dropped from a finance minister position.
Kathrada’s funeral became a factionalised us-and–them event. The cheerleader for this was none other than controversial Kathrada Foundation Chairperson Derek Hanekom. Hanekom failed to use the moment to work for unity instead he opted ever-willing to insult the then ANC top six leadership as I have elsewhere argued from baaskap mind.
Pravin Gordhan’s entrance was announced as he took up a seat three rows behind some of us. It didn’t take long before businessman Valli Moosa was seen fetching Gordhan to a more prominent seat. As they pass us, Moosa was heard asking Gordhan in reference to his cabinet position – Are you out?
Not long after that CEO Neeshan Balton seizing his moment acknowledged the presence of Malema who was made to stand as Balton shared how desperately Kathrada wanted to take Malema to Robben Island. He also pledged to arrange this to happen. Kathrada’s funeral thus petered out to a toxic combination of ANC factional fights, Gordhan victimhood and Malema- Robben Island promised trip, while the ANC leadership in attendance were blatantly disrespected.
A visibly annoyed ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe would later in conversation share that he was not going to be bullied by those who led the funeral programme. Thus, in death, Ahmed Kathrada divided ANC leadership and cadres who respected and revered him as a stalwart. His funeral was used to fuel the factional wars endemic in the ANC. His contributions that span decades inculcating a before and after Robben Island life were wilfully abandoned on his funeral day because another agenda weighed heavier. Those who controlled this occasion was going to have their moment in the sun, inserting themselves into the factional ANC politics all in the name of Ahmed Kathrada.
South Africa later heard his life partner Barbara Hogan in appearing before the State of Capture Commission lamenting that on the day of her firing Kathrada sat outside in the vehicle when she was facing Zuma and Mantashe. We know from Hogan’s side there is bad blood with both Zuma and Mantashe for her firing.
Since the funeral, it appears the Foundation increasingly falls into the trap of many modern day high-heeled foundations that have come to define our new political landscape. Does the Kathrada Foundation make up part of those NGO’s that Chief Justice Mogoeng bemoans in the October 2017 JSC hearings?
Mogoeng’s words, “…One gets a sense that NGO’s show their hand when there is something to challenge about how the country is run but hardly ever when issues like the incidence of racism show up, the incidence of employment equity arises…I wonder why NGO’s never say anything that will challenge these things in a court of law to say, this resistance to the implementation of employment equity. I don’t see much activism relating to land redistribution. …. And finally, I don’t see much activism from the NGO’s in relation to ensuring that there is the minimum for participation in the economy of this country. Also, by the previously disadvantaged including women. Why? Am I mistaken? Or is that the reality as you have experienced it? And if so why?”[sic]
Off course the AKF will remonstrate, its work against racism is known, yet the latter part (employment equity and land issues) which Mogoeng also engages possibly fit. The Kathrada Foundation seems spirited to come to the rescue of a politician, for reasons we may not assume we know when it is silent racialised economic inequality as an undeniable daily democratic reality. It silent to red-card the buffer zone of ”black” elites who justify the arrogance of white monopoly capital.
Hanekom’s personal stance, for which he was rebuked, but defied the ANC, on the land issue must, therefore, threatens also to be the Foundation’s stance plausibly hence the silence. The known gross unequal democratic society perpetuated in ‘white’ wealth juxtaposed to ‘black’ squalor is not found problematic by among others the Kathrada Foundation.
This week the EFF accused the Foundation of being racist. I cringed thinking is this what Uncle Kathy’s legacy in less than two years of his death became?
The Kathrada Foundation recently released a statement on the Public Protector’s findings against Pravin Gordhan. With this statement, the Foundation came to the defence of Gordhan declaring him innocent. While the Foundation is entitled to its opinion on Gordhan, its statement went further explicitly calling for the removal of the Public Protector. This call flies in the face of the uphold and respect for a constitutionally endorsed Chapter 9 institution. It equally failed to juxtapose the incumbent to her predecessor on facts not fiction. It uncritically joined the pervasive narrative in emptiness of objectivity, only because any attack on Pravin Gordhan is defined a fight back strategy attack. It does not see Gordhan as answerable and not above reproach.
This call for a removal of the Public Protector informed by the interest of a politician (Pravin Gordhan) translates to a biased and blatant attack on a Chapter 9 institution. The Foundation did not wait to afford the President to comply with the findings of the public protector it instead chose to accuse public protector as playing factional games.
Interestingly enough, the foundation is oblivious to its role in the very factional wars of the ANC. It is not in soberness of mind seeing any need to question the role of its Chairperson (Hanekom) and other board members in the ANC factional fights. How far did we come that the EFF can today accuse the Foundation of being racist?
In the end, we are compelled to ask some troubling questions of the Kathrada Foundation and its role and intentions in this era.
Are we with this introduced to the real Ahmed Kathrada when we hear the Kathrada Foundation board members Hanekom, Hogan and Balton speak in this season? Or is the real Kathrada long buried sacrificed at the altar of factional interest? What are we to read into this uncritical defence of a politician, Pravin Gordhan, and the ironic demand of a public protector removal? Would the Foundation be this loud to defend any other politician? What makes Gordhan so unique as more important than others against who the Public Protector equally finds?
Were we deceived as to who Ahmed Kathrada really was since those who direct his legacy are threatening to introduce us to a Kathrada we simply didn’t know?
Did Kathrada experience a metamorphosis over the last decade of his life that justifies the factional minds of its board members?
Is Kathrada’s name abused for personal self-interest in factional political wars?
We must continue wait and see, we are living in interesting times where political interest has preferred the NGO sector as a political space from where agendas are driven.