Speech of President Thabo Mbeki at the Memorial Meetiing for Minister Dullah Omar, Pretoria 24 March 2004

Members of the family of the late Dullah Omar,

Your Worship, the Mayor of Tshwane and Councillors,

Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premier of Gauteng and MEC's,

Your Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners,

Our religious leaders,

Comrades, ladies and gentlemen:

11 days ago, we laid Minister Dullah Omar's mortal remains to rest. As we did so, we said farewell to a dear friend, a loyal comrade, an outstanding patriot. We have gathered today in our Capital City to pay tribute to him and ensure that the democratic government he served with such dedication conveys its thanks to him for his selfless service to the people of South Africa.

In the last few days, the nation joined Dullah's family and immediate community to mourn his departure. The tears of grief were both inevitable and deserved, because when Dullah Omar left us, we lost a giant whose own gentleness suggested to all of us that he should be spared all pain, including the pain that leads to death.

Perhaps the time has now come that we celebrate his life rather than mourn his permanent absence from our midst. We should speak of what it is that makes us to value Dullah Omar as we do, as an outstanding comrade and African who belongs among the galaxy of stars that point our way to a better future.

Dullah qualified to practice law as an attorney in 1960, the year of the Sharpeville Massacre and the beginning of the period of extreme repression that lasted for thirty years. He passed away four weeks before we held our third democratic general elections, and six weeks before we celebrated our First Decade of Liberation.

The history of our country determined that Dullah Omar should spend 44 years of his life in struggle to free our people from racist tyranny and its legacy of poverty, underdevelopment and loss of human dignity. He was part of the great movement that took our people out of the dark days of oppression to a bright new future of liberty and human fulfilment, devoting nearly two-thirds of his life to the achievement of these objectives.

It may be that future generations will ask the question - what kind of man was this who gave so much of his life to the service of his people! We must therefore speak of Dullah Omar and of the times during which lived and worked.

Those times confronted all our people with enormous challenges. Perhaps the first among these was the challenge to overcome the fear of pain, as the apartheid regime callously massacred the unarmed in Sharpeville and Langa to signal that death was the price that the brave would have to pay for standing up as fighters for freedom.

It sought to encircle and cage all those who dared to proclaim the cause of liberation within a prison of fear. By making it a legal offence merely to belong to the ANC, the SACP and the PAC, it told everybody to fear belonging to the organised movement for national liberation.

This it also did through other elements of a merciless campaign of repression, which included the cold-blooded assassination of freedom fighters, the systematic use of torture, the repeated massacre of many people, deliberate resort to state terrorism, long terms of imprisonment under harsh conditions, and the repressive control of our people through the imposition of states of emergency, banning orders and banishment.

To be a freedom fighter in these conditions demanded that those who dared to uphold the cause of liberty should refuse to be enslaved by fear. They had to cultivate within their minds and souls fear of fear, because to fear to act would have served to perpetuate the commission of a crime against humanity.

They had to conquer fear because submission to it would have meant that people of conscience would have had to betray their consciences, merely to avoid the pain that the oppressors found necessary to guarantee their unjust rule.

Dullah Omar was among these patriots who would not betray or abandon the interests of the oppressed simply because the regime of apartheid acted to terrorise the faint hearted into submission.

Dullah Omar demonstrated courage even as our heroes and heroines one after the other fell victim to the vicious barbarity of the oppressors, refusing to be imprisoned by fear. Thus he continued a tradition of selflessness and willingness to sacrifice, that our people had upheld from the very first day that other human beings from across the seas engaged in an offensive to subjugate them as our colonial masters.

As early as 1961, Albert Luthuli had said of our heroes and heroines, that: "Beneath the surface (of political repression), there is a spirit of defiance. The people of South Africa have never been a docile lot...We have a long tradition of struggle for our national rights, reaching back to the very beginnings of white settlement and conquest 300 years ago."

Dullah Omar exemplified that spirit of defiance. What he did not only contributed to our emancipation, but it served further to entrench among all our people the conviction and practice never to allow that our acts of commission or omission should enable oppression and tyranny to prevail.

That is why the generations that followed him into the trenches of struggle are today the frontline defenders of the victory we scored 10 years ago, when through our sacrifices we ensured the triumph of the democratic revolution, giving life to the vision that the people shall govern!

The forthcoming elections will therefore serve as a tribute to Dullah Omar, as those of 1994 constituted a salute to Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani, and others who, like them had refused to be terrorised into submission.

On the 14th of April, the millions who engaged in the struggle for liberation, under the leadership of these outstanding patriots, must once again defeat all attempts to coerce and intimidate them into betraying their right freely to express their will. They must cast their votes contemptuous of the desperate efforts to instil fear into the minds of the people by those who are opposed to democracy.

Some in our country have seen the period of the transfer of power to the people as a result of our victory a decade ago, as providing them with the opportunity and possibility for self-enrichment at the expense of the people. These are people whose value systems are dominated by a soulless acquisitive selfishness, bereft of all sense of the noble goal of the all-round upliftment of the ordinary working people that inspired Dullah Omar throughout his life.

We have to wage a sustained struggle against these, the scavengers who seek to live off the people through resort to immoral means. To guarantee our victory against these, we have in our hands the powerful example of the way that Dullah Omar led his life.

As an attorney and an advocate he could have used his learning and his professional expertise to dedicate his life to the accumulation of wealth. But he refused to do this, determined to place his competences at the service of the people, both as a fighter for freedom and a builder of the new South Africa.

He acted as a lawyer to serve deprived communities, those negatively affected by a multitude of apartheid laws, and those who ran foul of the apartheid forces of repression because of their involvement in struggle not because he was compelled to do so.

In action he made the statement that in the face of tyranny and in the face of the wretchedness and deprivation facing the masses of the people, our country's intelligentsia and professionals had a duty to side with the people, to put their learning and their skills at the service of the people.

When he turned his back on the pursuit of personal wealth and comfort, inspired by the compelling need to serve the people of South Africa, he continued a tradition that had produced a whole battalion of intellectuals, both black and white, who had dedicated themselves to the cause of the downtrodden.

His example constitutes a challenge to the intellectuals and professionals who enjoy the freedom for which he fought, themselves to follow in his footsteps. It stands out as a stern rebuke against those who would use their capacities to prey on the people and society, showing us what we need to do to harness the genius of our people to the cause of the construction of a people-centred society.

To build this society, to achieve the objective of an African renaissance, to contribute to the emergence of a just world order in favour of the billions on our globe who are poor and marginalised, requires bold new thinking and action. The attainment of these objectives requires thinkers such as Dullah Omar was.

Dullah Omar and other leaders of the liberation movement had to think in new ways to open the way to a negotiated resolution of the crisis into which the apartheid system had plunged our country. He and others of our leaders had to think in new ways to build the constitutional, legal and institutional infrastructure that would define the new South Africa, giving her the possibility to transform herself into a successful non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous democracy.

As we enter our Second Decade of Liberation, deprived on the mighty intellect of a Dullah Omar, we are nevertheless obliged to use our collective genius to achieve the goal of the upliftment of the working people of our country, Africa and the world to which he dedicated his life.

The challenges we face in this regard are many and considerable. We live and work in a world in the grip of the process of globalisation, which, among other things, has resulted in the further growth of the disparity and imbalance between the rich and the powerful on one hand, and the poor and disempowered both within and between countries and continents on the other.

Thus, despite the fact that the world disposes of sufficient wealth and know-how to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment, and despite the solemn commitments that have been made for humanity to act together to achieve this objective, the reality makes the unequivocal statement that to the rich and powerful, the idea and practice of human solidarity are alien concepts.

We live and work in a world in which the dominant are determined to use their power to determine the shape and direction of the modern world, regardless of the desires and aspirations of the billions who are poor and weak. It is as a result of this reality that we have witnessed a Sheik Ahmed Yassin of Palestine assassinated in cold blood, a Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti removed from office, and a mercenary operation mounted to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Confronted by all this, humanity as a whole seems paralysed to intervene on the side of justice, entrenching the global practice according to which the poor are being taught that there are some in the world who are their masters, the powers that are destined to determine the destinies of those who are powerless.

Despite all this, we have an obligation to remain true to the goals Dullah Omar set himself while he lived. We owe it to him and others who dedicated themselves to serve the people of South Africa, ready to lay down their lives, to ensure that we eradicate poverty and underdevelopment, racism and sexism in our country, realise the renewal of Africa, and contribute to the construction of a new world order of equality among the peoples and a shared prosperity.

To achieve these objectives we need the quiet courage of a Dullah Omar, without seeking fame and acclaim. We need the steadfast attachment to principle of a Dullah Omar, without expectation of personal reward. We require the unwavering focus on the interests and aspirations of the masses of the people of a Dullah Omar. We must cultivate the use of our minds and skills to advance the interests of the people rather than our selfish desires, as did Dullah Omar.

Dullah Omar stood steadfast in his sector of deployment as our Minister of Transport until illness confined him to a hospital bed. While he had some strength in him, despite the ravages of incurable cancer, he insisted that he had to serve the people to the very last.

To realise the vision espoused by our comrade, the outstanding patriot and thinker, Dullah Omar, we must emulate his example of selfless and untiring work, refusing to put off until tomorrow what can be done today.

The hunger that afflicts the children of our country demands action today, and not tomorrow. The poverty that grinds down the people of Africa requires action today, and not tomorrow. The billions across the world who cry out for an end to their misery expect an answer today rather than tomorrow.

All these demand that we do what we can to mould ourselves in the image of a Dullah Omar, inspired by everything he did as a servant of the people, and by his humility that did not allow that he should be consumed by the arrogance of power, or dazzled by the search for publicity.

11 days ago, we laid Minister Dullah Omar's mortal remains to rest. As we did so, we said farewell to a dear friend, a loyal comrade, an outstanding patriot. We have gathered today in our Capital City to pay tribute to him and ensure that the democratic government he served with such dedication conveys its thanks to him for his selfless service to the people of South Africa.

As we say farewell to him, pray that he should rest in peace and convey our condolences to his dear wife Farida and the rest of his family, we reaffirm that though he has passed on, his spirit will continue to inspire us as we continue our forward march to the achievement of the goal of a better life for all. Rest in peace dear friend, brother, comrade and honoured leader of our people.

I thank everybody present here for taking time to attend this memorial meeting.

Thank you.

ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENCY ON 24 March 2004

UNION BUILDINGS, PRETORIA

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