The battle for the soul of the ANC played out at the funeral of struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada yesterday as present and former party leaders called on President Jacob Zuma to honour Kathrada’s wish and step down as president.
As Kathrada was buried at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg, former president Kgalema Motlanthe read excerpts from a letter Kathrada had sent to Zuma a year ago in which he asked the president to stand down.
Motlanthe noted that a year had passed and Zuma had not replied.
Kathrada died in the early hours of Tuesday morning in a Johannesburg hospital after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
Zuma – who did not attend the funeral, at the request of the Kathrada family – became the focus of speakers as uncertainty continued to swirl around the future of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who looks likely to be axed in a cabinet reshuffle.
At one point, some mourners chanted “Phansi, Zuma!” (down with Zuma).
Gordhan and Motlanthe were given standing ovations by the mourners, among whom were members of the ANC elite and luminaries from across the political spectrum.
Former ANC treasurer- general Mathews Phosa said Kathrada’s letter signalled that it was time for the ANC to be bold.
“The national executive committee of the ANC must stop being cowards,” he said on the sidelines of the funeral.
“They must take a moral stand and say this man [Zuma] has violated the constitution. He is in breach of his position.
“It can’t be enough for a president just to say ‘I’m sorry’.
“He must say ‘I am sorry’ and step down.
“There must be consequences for wrong actions.”
Kathrada had supported Gordhan in his battle with Zuma, the Gupta family and others said to be plotting state capture.
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director Neeshan Balton said: “Uncle Kathy said ‘I want to be the first one there to accompany [Gordhan] to court’.
“Irrespective of whether you are a minister, in the days or weeks to come you remain true to the principles that Kathrada was proud of,” Balton told Gordhan at the funeral.
SACP president Blade Nzimande told mourners: “We dare not gamble with this movement, in his honour.
“We will continue to say ‘no‚ no‚ no’ [to patronage].
“It is unfortunate that he leaves us at a time when his wisdom is needed more in our organisation.”
EFF leader Julius Malema said Zuma should honour Kathrada’s wishes and resign.
“[Motlanthe] described the last wishes of Uncle Kathy and, in African tradition, the wishes of the dead must be respected,” he said.
“Uncle Kathy’s wish was that Zuma step down, so if he is really an African he will honour those wishes.”
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor said: “Kgalema Motlanthe said it all. Once he had spoken . . . nobody [needed] to add anything.”
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said Kathrada was “incorruptible‚ not only in his politics but also in his personal life”.
“He was a man you knew would never let you down,” he said. “He would never do something behind your back and never deceive you. You always knew where you stood with him.
“Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful but they were never dishonest.”