Thabo Mbeki’s speech at Alfred Nzo’s funeral. 22 January 2000

November 9, 2012 § 8 Comments

The days pass, each year giving birth to its successor. What has passed becomes the past as time erodes the memory of what was living experience.

In their recalling, old joys expand into enlarged pleasure.

Old wounds fade away into forgotten scars or linger on as a quiet pain without a minder.

Those who gave generously of their talents to lighten our moments of darkness, do not want the embarrassment of the enthusiasm of our gratitude.

Those who brought us intolerable pain and took away our days of light insist that nothing should be recalled, lest we impose on them the pain of guilt and on ourselves the pain of our memories.

And so what was slides away as though it never was.

The kaffirs and the Bantus and the Europeans, the pass laws and the group areas, the surplus people huddled together in the cold and desolate veld – all has passed, as though it never was.

The haunting tragedy of human beasts of burden, who worked on the soil and in the bowels of the earth, merely as factors of production, with fewer rights than the machines by their side -that too has passed as though it never was.

The early morning knock of the police, the solitary confinement, the torture and death in the police cells – all has passed as though it never was.

The stories that were told, which transformed patriots into mindless, blood-thirsty terrorists at the service of ungodly foreign powers, and the long days and nights in prison and in exile – all lingers on only as a nightmarish image of what might have been.

The death at Bulhoek, at Alexandra, in New Brighton, at Sharpeville, in Soweto, at Sebokeng and in Shobashobane – they too become part of an imagined tragedy that never was.

One after the other, the stars that brightened the firmament of a generation have been extinguished:

Albert Luthuli
James Calata
Z.K. Matthews
Leslie Massina
Moses Kotane
J.B. Marks
Braam Fischer
Lilian Ngoyi
Duma Nokwe
Helen Joseph
Yusuf Dadoo
Frances Baard
Moses Mabbida
Oscar Mpetha
Sabata Dalindyebo
Alex la Guma
Mike Harmel
M.P. Naicker
Stephen Dlamini
Ruth First
Mark Shope
Robert Resha
Joe Slovo
Harry Gwala
Jack Hodgson
Jack Simons
Trevor Huddleston
Dorothy Nyembe
Oliver Tambo
Thomas Nkobi
Alfred Nzo.

Time has swallowed up our heroes and heroines.

Not anywhere in free South Africa stand a statue and a monument which speak to us and all future time to say – once uon a time, our country was blessed to have as its citizens these who, though dead, are brought to life by every day’s dawn that portends fulfilment for all the people of our motherland.

They too slide into the past as though they never were.

Alfred Nzo lies in front of us in his small house of wood, cold and still and without a voice.

When he passed on, yet another great African heart ceased to beat.

While he lived, he refused to allow that his people should be defined in any way other than the way they freely chose for themselves.

He elected to oppose those who sought sectarian and personal benefit, by setting one against the other, the peoples of many colours and cultures that time had, in a tragic sequence, brought together as one family.

He gave those who were downtrodden and despised pride in themselves as glorious human beings, by instilling in them the knowledge that because they were oppressed, they held the gift of freedom in their hands.

In time, those whom Alfred Nzo opposed sought to corrupt and destroy his soul by presenting him with the cruel loneliness of the police cells at Marshall Square and the terror of the perfectly absolute power of torturers, who had been mandated by those who governed, to do at “the very witching time of night … such bitter business as the day would quake to look on…”

Alone he sat for two-thirds of a year, cut off from the mass army of revolution, a hated guest of the oppressor host, with nothing to protect his sanity and his integrity except his will never to turn traitor, never to betray his comrades, his movement, his people, his cause.

The trauma implanted in his sub-conscious mind the menace of the growl of the approaching motor car of the security police and turned every engine’s sound into a threatening purr.

Alfred Nzo lies in front of us in his small house of wood, cold and still and without a voice.

While he lived, those who sought to destroy his soul failed.

Far away from the small brutal spaces of Marshall Square, he strode the globe like a gentle colossus.

He went his ways speaking quietly of hope, of human dignity, of the cruel errors of small-minded people, of the magnanimity of those who were treated as savages by those who claimed to be civilised, of the inevitability of freedom.

When at last he returned to his land of birth, whose authorities had treated him as an outcast and an outlaw, he walked through our serried ranks coaxing us to still our rage.

He worked quietly to persuade us to understand the cruel errors of the small-minded people, teaching us to assert our own humanity by respecting the right of all our people to life, liberty and happiness.

He showed us by example that we needed no high sounding titles to discharge our obligation faithfully to serve the people of South Africa.

Even as some sought to present him as a object of ridicule and failure, those of us who knew who he was and what he was worth to the people of South Africa, determined that we, like him, would continue to be informed by our knowledge and our consciences, rather than the voices of those who sought to play various and insensitive games.

Alfred Nzo lies in front of us in his small house of wood, cold and still and without a voice.

While he lived, his humility, his self-effacing ways, his constant humour, his loyalty to principle, his avoidance of the self-serving theatrical flourish, his refusal to be defeated, the certainty his very being carried of the inevitability of the realisation of our hopes, brought light and joy to all our nights of despair.

The gods themselves would lose their patience with us if we permitted that time should persuade us that this jewel on our crown has lost its sparkle, merely because the soil we tread will have taken into its bosom the small wooden house that Alfred Nzo now occupies.

Whatever the direction we turn our ears – towards the Limpopo, towards Hoho, in the direction of uKhahlamba and Kgalagadi – the same message reaches us – Alfred Nzo’s work is not yet done!

The voices that come at us from the great expanses of our beautiful land tell us that we must assert that what was, was.

The lived experiences of the times that have passed are to us and to future generations udondolo nomsimbithi!

The heroes and heroines, whom Alfred Nzo has joined, like him, live among us, combatants still for the liberation of all our people.

The cause for which they fought and sacrificed has not run its course.

Africa’s children continue to cry out as they have done for centuries – lizalis’idinga lakho, Thixo Nkosi yenyaniso! Nkosi sikelel’iAfrika! Morena boloka sechaba saheso!

Alfred Nzo rests in front of us in his small house of wood, cold and still and without a voice.

And yet we can hear him as he says:

Do not allow the shadows to deceive you nor the long road you have to travel, to discourage you!

Refuse that selfishness should take possession of your hearts and minds and deprive you of what is most precious to us – the lived gift of ubuntu!

Listen carefully to the strident voice of your adversaries and continue to strive as you have done over countless years, to remain loyal to what is good and just!

Above all, as you call for God’s benediction in the interests of Africa’s people, act together to free the peoples of our Continent from oppression, from war, from poverty, from greed, from lies, deceit, humiliation and contempt!

Alfred Nzo rests in his small house of wood.

The African National Congress and its allies; the masses of our people and our government; the world community represented here by their Excellencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners; and, other distinguished mourners who have travelled from their countries, join Regina Nzo, Alfred’s wife, their son, Ike, Alfred’s sisters, his brother and the rest of the family, in the short journey to the final place of rest for a patriot who was to all of us variously, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, a brother, a friend, a colleague, a comrade and a leader.

All of us say, together, thank you for being what you have been.

We say thank you, siyabonga, realeboga for the way you have enriched all our lives.

We appeal to you that you bear with us that we might not have understood as well as we should have, how much what you thought and said and did gave meaning and direction to our own lives.

Times has passed and the years, bringing us to the dawn of the African Century.

It was right that you should have stayed with us until we reached this historic moment and then, ever so abruptly, declared that your race was run.

Tell those whom you join that, whatever the problems, still we progress.

Senatla sa dinatla!
Qhawe la maqhawe!
Rest in peace!

Issued by the African National Congress, 22 January 2000

§ 8 Responses to Thabo Mbeki’s speech at Alfred Nzo’s funeral. 22 January 2000

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