NEWS & ANALYSIS

Zuma's insinuation unfounded - Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

Late struggle veteran did indeed write the letter calling for President to step down, and here's the proof

Foundation disappointed in President Zuma around Kathrada letter remarks

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is repulsed at recent comments by President Jacob Zuma, which insinuate that anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada was manipulated into writing the letter calling on the president to resign.

Similar comments were made by a guest on ANN7 immediately after Kathrada’s passing in March this year.

President Zuma, in a recent interview with the SABC, questioned whether Kathrada had actually written the letter, and hinted that due to his age, he could have been manipulated into doing so.

This misrepresentation of facts to the South African public is a sad reflection of President Zuma, who has simply dismissed Kathrada’s views as that of an old man who had lost his mind.

False information that the letter was written by his wife Barbara Hogan, as retaliation for being removed from her post as a minister, has also been peddled previously. We reject these claims.

Kathrada finalised the letter on 31 March 2016 and had it sent to the Presidency on the 1 April 2016. It was only after the President’s lack of acknowledgment of responsibility to the public for his actions during his subsequent address to the nation, that Kathrada requested that the letter be made public.

To hint that Kathrada was an old senile man, who was prone to being manipulated, is nothing short of an insult to the struggle icon’s lifelong activism. Kathrada was active, both mentally and physically, up until a month before he passed on. The many who had an opportunity to engage with him throughout 2016, leading up to early 2017, would attest to his sound mental health. This includes journalists, school children, university students, researchers, friends, family, neighbours and fellow comrades.

President Zuma’s statements are also deeply hurtful to the struggle stalwart’s family, and the staff, the Board and management of the Foundation who worked with Kathrada – activists who have always served and acted with the highest degree of integrity, and with great dereference to the stalwart. While Kathrada would often seek advice from those around him, he ultimately made he own decisions, which were respected. 

Perhaps the president may choose to ignore Kathrada’s own words about how painful it had been for him to write the letter, or that members of the Foundation had seen Kathrada working on the draft versions. But what the President cannot ignore is the range of individuals who have called for his resignation.

President Zuma cannot argue that the many ANC struggle stalwarts who gathered at Constitution Hill recently, calling for him to step down, were all too old to think for themselves.

Neither can he argue that the likes of Justice Zak Yakoob, Bonang Mohale, Kumi Naidoo, Ela Gandhi, Popo Molefe, Prema Naidoo and Sheila Sisulu have all been manipulated into believing that he is not fit to lead the country.

President Zuma cannot accuse Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Reverend Giet Khoza and the South African Council of Churches as a whole, together with a range of other religious leaders of various faiths, of being coerced into being critical of his government.

That Kathrada’s fellow Rivonia Trialists, Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg, have not hesitated to share the dismay they feel at his presidency, seems to have slipped President Zuma’s attention.

But perhaps most painfully, President Zuma seems to have forgotten the letter written to him by Laloo Chiba, who passed away just a few days ago. Chiba, a man of impeccable integrity who served on Umkhonto we Sizwe’s second National High Command, was Kathrada’s best friend and closest confidant. Had Chiba suspected that Kathrada was being forced into writing a particular letter, or that he was mentally unstable, he would never have shared the same sentiments as Kathrada, let alone allow the Board of the Foundation, on which he served, to stand by its publishing.

President Zuma, your attempt to cast aspersion’s on Kathrada’s state of mind and its independence will not detract from the validity of the contents of his letter. Perhaps it would have been better had you read it and acted on the advice given.

For your ease of mind we publish herewith the first draft of the letter and the final email from Kathrada to the Foundation.

Kathrada had been debating for some time about whether to send a letter expressing his views to President Zuma or not. By December 2015, he thought against it, but the subsequent Constitutional Court ruling regarding Nkandla convinced him that it was the right thing to do.

First draft of the letter by Kathrada

Dear Comrade President

I have agonised for several days before writing this letter to you.

I’m just a rank-and-file member of my ANC Branch. However, even before the ANC opened its membership to non-Africans, I’ve been involved in ANC- and S.A. Indian Congress activities. I was among the:-

-20 Accused in the Defiance Campaign Trial, in which we were sentenced to 9 months imprisonment, suspended.

-I was among the last 30 (of the original 156) accused in the Treason Trial of 1956. -the 8 Rivonia Trialists, sentenced to Life Imprisonment.

-I’m immensely grateful to the ANC for the privilege of serving on the first NEC after its unbanning, until 1997, when I stepped down.

- I was also benefited from the experience of  serving for a term as Parliamentary Counsellor to President Mandela, after which I stepped down.

I’m of course aware that this does not automatically bestow on me the right to address this letter to the President.

However, in all these years it never occurred to me that the time would come when I would feel obliged to express my concerns to the Honourable President. It is therefore painful for me to write this letter to you. As you know I have been a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC and broader congress movement since the 1940‘s.

I have always maintained a  position of not speaking out publicly about any differences I may harbour against my leaders and my organisation -the ANC-. I felt and would only have done so when I thought that some important organisational matters compel me to raise my concerns.

Today I have decided to break with that tradition.

The position of President is one that must at all times unite this country behind a vision and program that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans. It is a position that requires the respect of all South Africans, which of course must be earned at all times.

I did not speak out against the recall of President Mbeki even though I was not in favour of it. I did not speak out against Nkandla although I thought that it wrong to have spent public money for any President’s private comfort. I did not speak out though I felt it grossly insulting when my President is called a “thief” or a “rapist”; or when he is accused of being under the influence of the Guptas; I thought the NEC would have dealt with this as the collective leadership of the ANC.

I had hoped it was not true when the media reported that my President resorted to a shower after having unprotected sex.

When I learnt of the dismissal of Minister Nene and the speculated reasons for this I became very worried. I believe it is accepted practice that the appointment and dismissal of ministers is the prerogative of the President. This might be technically correct but in my view it is against the best traditions of our movement. If its true that the Minister was recalled because of his refusal to support the demands of the SAA chairperson and for stalling in making budgetary allocations for the crippling nuclear programme, then my concerns would be justified.

It is the people’s interest that must at all times come first and in this instance it was clearly not the case. The resultant crisis that the country was plunged into was clearly an indication that the removal of the Minister was not about the interests of the people.

I think I should now place myself in a retrospective mode, and ask myself some serious questions.

* Is my President still on course with what our constitution, and what our country expects of him?

* If we are to continue to be guided by growing public opinion, would he seriously consider stepping down? Yesterday I sat on my balcony, overlooking the Company Gardens and witnessed thousands of people, Black and White; some with placards, the rest chanting “Zuma Must Fall”!! And I viewed footage of a similar demonstration in Johannesburg.

I’m not a political analyst, but I’m now driven to ask:- “Dear Comrade President, Dont you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country and consequently will surely lead to serious electoral losses for the movement that all of us have dedicated our lives to.

And bluntly, if not arrogantly; in the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down?

If not, Comrade President, are you aware that your outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle stands to be

severely tarnished if the remainder of your term as President continues to be dogged by crises and a growing public loss of confidence in the ANC and government as a whole.

---------------------------------------

Shan,

For some reason my conclusion refuses to be included in this email to you.

Have a lovely and restful holiday.

__________________________________________________________________________

Kathy Kathrada amkathrada@mweb.co.za to me, Ismail, laloo.chiba, bahogan

Dear Shan, Haji Ismail, Laloo,

Below is the draft of the letter I propose to address to the President.

Please feel free to make any alterations, additions etc.

Without having to revert to me, I will accept YOUR final draft.

Please send it to the President; and send me a copy. 

Dear Comrade President

I have agonised for a while before writing this letter to you.

I am just a rank-and-file member of my ANC Branch. However, even before the ANC opened its membership to non-Africans in the 1970’s, I was involved in the activities of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the SACP and Umkhonto we Sizwe.

-In the Defiance Campaign Trial of 1952, I was among the 20 accused who were sentenced to 9 months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years.

-In the Treason Trial- 1956-1961. Of the original 156 accused, I was among the last 30 who were finally acquitted in 1961.

-In the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial I was among the 8 accused sentenced to Life Imprisonment. Together with Comrade Walter Sisulu and others I was released in 1989. Comrade Madiba was released about 4 months later.

I am immensely grateful to the ANC for the privilege of serving on the first NEC after its unbanning. In 1997, I stepped down. I also benefited from the experience of serving for one term as Parliamentary Counsellor to President Mandela, after which I stepped down.

I am of course aware that this does not automatically bestow on me the right to address this letter to the President.

However, in all these years it never occurred to me that the time would come when I would feel obliged to express my concerns to the Honourable President. It is, therefore, painful for me to write this letter to you.  I have been a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC and broader Congress movement since the 1940s.

I have always maintained a position of not speaking out publicly about any differences I may harbour against my leaders and my organisation, the ANC. I would only have done so when I thought that some important organisational matters compel me to raise my concerns.

Today I have decided to break with that tradition.

The position of President is one that must at all times unite this country behind a vision and programme that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans. It is a position that requires the respect of all South Africans, which of course must be earned at all times.

I did not speak out against Nkandla although I thought it wrong to have spent public money for any President’s private comfort. I did not speak out though I felt it grossly insulting when my President is called a “thief” or a “rapist”; or when he is accused of being “under the influence of the Guptas”. I believed that the NEC would have dealt with this as the collective leadership of the ANC.

When I learnt of the dismissal of Minister Nene and the speculated reasons for this I became very worried. I’m fully aware, it is accepted practice that the appointment and dismissal of Ministers is the prerogative of the President. This might be technically correct but in my view it is against the best traditions of our movement. My concern was amplified when it emerged that the Deputy Finance Minister reported that he was offered the Finance Minister post by members of the Gupta family. The people’s interest must at all times come first and in this instance it was clearly not the case. The resultant crisis that the country was plunged into was clearly an indication that the removal of the Minister was not about the interests of the people.

The unanimous ruling of the Constitutional Court on the Nkandla matter has placed me in an introspective mode and I had to ask myself some very serious and difficult questions. Now that the court has found that the President failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law, how should I relate to my President?

If we are to continue to be guided by growing public opinion and the need to do the right thing, would he not seriously consider stepping down?

I am not a political analyst, but I am now driven to ask: “Dear Comrade President, don’t you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?”

And bluntly, if not arrogantly; in the face of such persistently widespread criticism, condemnation and demand, is it asking too much to express the hope that you will choose the correct way that is gaining momentum, to consider stepping down?

If not, Comrade President, are you aware that your outstanding contribution to the liberation struggle stands to be severely tarnished if the remainder of your term as President continues to be dogged by crises and a growing public loss of confidence in the ANC and government as a whole.

I know that if I were in the President’s shoes, I would step down with immediate effect. I believe that is what would help the country to find its way out of a path that it never imagined it would be on, but one that it must move out of soon.

To paraphrase the famous MK slogan of the time, “There comes a time in the life of every nation when it must chose to submit or fight”. Today I appeal to our President to submit to the will of the people and resign.

Yours comradely

Ahmed M Kathrada -31st March, 2016.

ENDS

Issued on behalf of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation by Executive Director Neeshan Balton, 27 November 2017