Huge crowd cheers Pravin Gordhan at St Georges Cathedral

Participants at memorial for Ahmed Kathrada call for President Jacob Zuma to go

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Photo of man holding sign
A man at the front of St Georges Cathedral stood still holding this sign for the entire service. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

A massive crowd of people gathered today in and outside St Georges Cathedral to honour the late ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada.

The memorial service was as much a celebration of the legacy of the struggle icon as it was a platform for activists and politicians to speak out against President Jacob Zuma, the Gupta family, the nuclear deal, state capture and Zuma’s recent cabinet reshuffle. The keynote speaker was former finance minister Pravin Gordhan who was cheered loudly when he entered the church and given a standing ovation after his speech. The service was chaired by Dean Michael Weeder.

Before the memorial, about a hundred people stood in a long line down Plein Street. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Representatives from many organisations spoke including Fasiha Hassan of Fees Must Fall, Jeremy Cronin of the South African Communist Party (SACP), former head of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Vuyiseka Dubula, Tshepo Motsepe of Equal Education, Nomacebo Mbayo of Right2Know and Phumeza Mlungwana of Social Justice Coalition (SJC), as well as religious leaders of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. Eddie Daniels a fellow Robben Island inmate of Kathrada’s won the crowd over with his stories of “Uncle Kathy’s” generosity towards him while they were in prison. 

The service was marked by its diversity, both by skin colour and political affiliation. ANC, EFF, DA, Fees Must Fall, the Social Justice Coalition, Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education, and South African Communist Party supporters were present. During his speech Gordhan called for unity despite differing views. This protest perhaps encapsulated what he meant. 

Gordhan was received very positively by the large crowd. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

There was one tense incident when provincial ANC representative Nokuthula Ncaba said “the ANC as an organisation did not create the mess that we are under; it is the individuals that created it.” She was loudly booed by almost the entire church, and some started chanting “Zuma must fall!”

Cronin’s speech was enthusiastically applauded. He said:​

When a few months ago Ahmed Kathrada politely … requested President Zuma to resign, that was not because there was any personal animosity between them. He was not that sort of person. He didn’t do it because there was an ANC conference coming up and he was part of a faction that wanted to support one or another faction. He obviously didn’t do it because he was in the pay of monopoly capital or part of some bogus imperialist plot or conspiracy for regime change. He made the call not because he imagined that the stepping aside of the president on its own would solve the many problems inside of the ANC and inside of our country confronting our constitutional democracy. He made it out of a deep concern for the ANC, for its proud legacy and for the movement and the struggle to which he had devoted his entire life … He did it out of a strong moral repugnance of the parasitic looting and patronage networks that have penetrated into the uppermost echelons of the state and of the ANC. He did it not just for the ANC, but for the future of our country and of our hard won constitutional democracy. The SACP aligns itself fully with comrade Kathy’s call for Zuma to step down and for the principles on which Comrade Kathy made his call.

To loud approval Cronin called for lifestyle audits of government officials and the revocation of the Guptas’ residential rights. 

Dubula was cheered loudly when she said, “We must remember this is not Zuma’s country; it’s our country” and, apparently also directed at Zuma, “We pay tax and it’s not your money”.

Vuyiseka Dubula fired up the crowd. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Gordhan said “We have handed the state over to a bunch of gangsters”. He said the country’s first priority was to children studying under trees. He bemoaned the descent into selfishness and consumerism over the past three or four decades, and urged for more selflessness. Calling for more principled politics, he said it is going to be a long hard 20 or 30 years before we produce the South Africa we all want. “As these clouds gather we turn to figures like Uncle Kathy,” he said. 

Fasiha Hassan of Fees Must Fall. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
There was a large crowd outside the church too. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

CORRECTION: The article originally stated that people chanted “Fees must Fall” when booing the ANC councillor. It was actually “Zuma must fall”. We regret the error.

TOPICS:  Jacob Zuma

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