PRETORIA, December 8 – Former African National Congress treasurer general and diplomat Mendi Msimang – who died in hospital in Pretoria on Monday, reportedly just days short of his 90th birthday – 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, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.
“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,” he told mourners at Msimang’s special official funeral at the Christian Revival Church on Pretoria.
“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,” Ramaposa said.
“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.”
Msimang was one of a remarkable generation of freedom fighters, a generation whose deeds would reverberate across the ages. It was a generation that transformed the national liberation movement and changed the course of the 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,” Ramaposa said.
The material temptations of political office had never been greater than they were 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,” he said.
For 10 years, Msimang had served as ANC treasurer general, 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.”
As the chief representative of the ANC in the United Kingdom, Msimang 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 ANC. 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.
When he returned to London, this time as democratic South Africa’s first high commissioner to the Court of St James, he did so with a completely different mandate, but employed many of the same methods.
“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, Ramaphosa said. (ANA)