Address by Deputy President Jacob Zuma at the Memorial Service of the late Mr Raymond Mhlaba, St Alban's Cathedral, Pretoria

The Mhlaba Family,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
The Rev Prof Barney Pityana, Dean of St Alban's
Cathedral Anglican Diocese of Pretoria,
MECs, MPs and MPLs,
The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and all diplomats,
The Executive Mayor of Tshwane,
Friends and Comrades,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have come together this evening not to shed tears, but to celebrate the heroic and selfless life of a valiant warrior, who fought till the end for the liberation of this country.

Cde Raymond Mhlaba was born in 1920, eight years after the formation of the African National Congress, and a year later the Communist Party of South Africa later known as the SACP was formed. It is therefore not surprising that he had a natural fighting spirit and determination to achieve freedom and justice in his lifetime.

The ANC and SACP in particular were to shape and influence his political and personal life and his world view, and his life became synonymous with these two organisations.

Oom Ray first came into contact with politics through the trade union movement which he joined while he was a laundry worker in Port Elizabeth in 1942.

From an early age he understood the relationship and ideological connection between the workers movement and the liberation movement hence, he joined the Communist Party in 1943 and the ANC a year later in 1944.

Oom Ray was an embodiment of the revolutionary ANC-SACP Alliance and the progressive labour movement, while he was in prison and after his release.

He belonged to three different components of the liberation simultaneously - the ANC, SACP and the trade union movement, yet there was never any contradiction or conflict. Instead, this enriched all three organisations. He emphasised and understood the need for unity of purpose and action among the different components of our Alliance.

He led by example, distinguishing himself as a selfless, courageous and dedicated cadre of the movement, when he became the first ANC member to be arrested during the Defiance Campaign for disobeying unjust apartheid laws through peaceful protest.

This combination of courage and mass mobilisation skills propelled him to play an even greater role in the liberation movement, throughout the 1950's and beyond, displaying his unflinching commitment and dedication to the vision of the ANC and the SACP.

When the ANC adopted the armed struggle, Cde Raymond Mhlaba was among the first group of uMkhonto we Sizwe cadres to cross the borders to receive military training in China, together with Wilton Mkwayi, Joe Gqabi, Steve Naidoo, Patrick Mthembu and Andrew Mlangeni.

When Nelson Mandela was captured, Oom Ray took over the leadership of Umkhonto We Sizwe and became its commander, until his own arrest at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia in 1963.

On Robben Island, he was part of the High Organ of the ANC where ANC leaders played an instrumental role in nurturing young ANC cadres, and ensured that they were properly schooled in ANC history and traditions. Robben Island was thus turned into another site of struggle.

It was correct and proper that the African National Congress National Executive Committee bestowed on Oom Ray its highest honour Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe in 1992, whilst the SACP honoured him with the Moses Kotane Award.

This shows how highly valued Oom Ray was to the liberation movement, which he had served with outstanding dedication until his last day.

After the landmark 1994 elections, Oom Ray joined government as Premier of the Eastern Cape Province, a challenging deployment, as he faced the task of building one united provincial administration out of a territory that had been left in a monumental mess by the apartheid regime.

Having served his country in such a distinguished manner internally, it was only appropriate that he be sent to represent us outside the country. He was deployed as South Africa's High Commissioner to Uganda in 1997 until 2001, also accredited to Rwanda.

Oom Ray served our country in Uganda and Rwanda during a most difficult time, as the region was still recovering from the inexplicable genocide in Rwanda, in which about a million people were mercilessly murdered by militias.

His was indeed a life well-lived, and a struggle well-fought, and he has left us many lessons. His life story confirms that the masses are the makers of history. He came from amongst the downtrodden workers of our country to make a lasting contribution to the liberation struggle.

His life confirms that ours was not an elitist struggle, but a struggle that was led and directed by the ordinary masses of our country, whom we must continue to serve with distinction, as their servants in government.

He departs in the year in which we mark 50 years of the Freedom Charter. He died satisfied that we are on course and are still committed to meeting the minimum demands of our people as stated in the Charter.

He left us a legacy of struggle, dedication and commitment, and lessons in patriotism, unity and nation building, which we must nurture and protect.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us pay tribute to a stalwart of our struggle and a revolutionary who gave us a lifetime of commitment and dedication to the ideals of freedom, liberty and democracy. His loyalty to these ideals and a non-racial society were always unquestionable.

We pay homage to a man who served our country and people with distinction in many capacities. We are bidding farewell to a hero and veteran of our struggle.

We are saluting a revolutionary, a true patriot, a fearless freedom fighter, a commander, a champion of the working class, a trade unionist, a socialist and a colossus who had committed and dedicated his entire life to the struggle for a better South Africa and a better world.

We are dipping our banners in honour of a soldier who comes from a generation of leaders who rose above their oppressors, becoming victors even in their own captivity.

It remains incomprehensible to many, how after being incarcerated for so many decades, Oom Ray and his comrades emerged from prison with no bitterness, only seeking to make South Africa a peaceful, prosperous home for all its inhabitants and future generations.

Our country is blessed with precious minerals such as gold and diamonds. But the most precious asset that brought us freedom and democracy, remains the outstanding leadership qualities of people such as Nelson Mandela, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Wilton Mkwayi, Walter Sisulu and many others.

Oom Ray epitomised the leadership qualities of this generation - humility, selflessness dedication and loyalty.

Ladies and gentlemen, the passing on of Oom Ray forces us to come to terms with the reality that the distinguished generation that led our struggle so courageously, is in fact mortal.

We must accept that we will at some point have to face life and work without their guiding hands, experience and wisdom.

We dare not fail in our mission to build the united, prosperous South Africa that they fought so hard for, and sacrificed so much for. To do that would be to dishonour their memory.

They say soldiers do not die; they fall, leaving their spears to be picked up by combat ready comrades to continue the battle. Let us continue the struggle for a better South Africa, in memory of Oom Ray.

On behalf of Government, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Mhlaba family. Lalani ngenxeba, silahlekelwe sonke. May you find solace in the fact that the nation shares your anguish.

We have lost a leader of unequalled commitment, who will always occupy a special place among millions of the people of our country.

Sithi Hamba Kahle Ndobe!

Uyibekile induku ebandla.

Issued by: The Presidency
24 February 2005

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