Oration of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Official Funeral of Stella Nomzamo Sigcau, Qaukeni, Eastern Cape, May 16, 2006

Your Majesty, King Mpondombini Sigcau - A! Thandizulu,
Your Majesty, Queen Lombekiso,
Your Majesties and Royal Highnesses,
Nkosi Ngangomhlaba Matanzima and other traditional leaders,
Deputy President of the Republic, Phumzile Mlabo-Ngcuka,
Premier of the Eastern Cape, Nosimo Balindlela,
Judge Vuka Tshabalala,
Ministers, Mayors and other elected representatives,
Leaders of our political parties,
Bishop Mgojo and our religious leaders,
Officers, men and women of the South African National Defence Force,
Fellow mourners,

We have convened here to say a final farewell to a very dear daughter of both amaMpondo and the people of South Africa as a whole, Nkosazana Stella Nomzamo Sigcau, a mere few months after she celebrated her 69th birthday.

On behalf of our Government and the nation, I am honoured to convey our sincere condolences to her brother, His Majesty, King Mpondombini Sigcau - A! Thandizulu! - and the rest of the royal family, as well as the children and grandchildren of the deceased.

I would like to assure all of you, dear compatriots, that we too share the pain of the loss of your daughter, sister, mother and grandmother. We hope that the fact that we share your grief will help somewhat to lighten your burden, as well as rejoice that Nkosazana Stella Sigcau grew to become a national asset and heroine, evolving into a beloved mother of the much larger family that constitutes our nation.

Our government and the democratic state are truly privileged that we have been given the opportunity to show our deep respect for her by flying the national flag at half-mast throughout the country, and, today, by accompanying her to her final place of rest in an Official Funeral.

Speaking in my own name, within the context of the obligations imposed by the office I occupy during the period prescribed by our Constitution, I must confess that I am greatly saddened by the fact that Nkosazana Stella Sigcau departed the world of the living before she completed the tasks she had set herself.

As the current year began, during which we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution she helped to bring into being, she asked that I should agree to release her from her responsibilities as a Minister serving in our national government. In this regard, she asked that I should agree that she steps down from public duty next month, June.

She said she needed the few months to June especially to ensure that the Expanded Public Works Programme was working effectively, in particular with regard to the empowerment of women and the youth, and the improvement of the economic and social infrastructure especially in the rural areas.

I agreed to her requests, moved by the unselfish spirit that informed her decision voluntarily to give up her Ministerial position, so that a younger person could replace her.

I agreed to her requests, inspired by her unwavering commitment to the end, to serve the most downtrodden and disadvantaged in our society, especially the women and the rural people.

As a private citizen, after her retirement, she had hoped to use her energies to continue to lead the rural masses and our people as a whole, by doing things that would serve as examples of what could be done to address the challenge of rural development, and what should be done to reach deep into the store of our traditional knowledge systems to marshal these, effectively to address the diverse but related causes of health for all, social cohesion and ubuntu.

I am saddened that nature intervened to deny her the possibility to complete her term as a public servant, according to the parameters she had prescribed for herself to end many decades of public service.

I am saddened that death deprived her of the opportunity to don her working clothes and by example, show the millions of our people what we mean when we say that the freedom we enjoy today has given all of us the possibility truly to determine our destiny, the possibility to define what our country will look like tomorrow.

I would like to say this today, which perhaps I should have said to Nkosazana Nomzamo Sigcau while she lived, that many in our generation have felt a spirit of spiritual kinship with her for half-a-century.

This derived from the fact that in her youth, in the 1950s, she became a member of the African National Congress Youth League as we too became, following the example she had set.

Those of us who came after her as students at the Lovedale Institution looked up to her and others across the Tyhume River, at Fort Hare, who were inevitably, our seniors, constituting the Fort Hare branch of the ANC Youth League.

As an activist among these, and together with her comrades, Stella Sigcau had the rare privilege to discharge her obligations as part of a youthful contingent of the national liberation movement under the superintendence of that outstanding son of our people, Professor Z.K. Matthews, and others among our national leaders.

This we can now say that we should not have been surprised that when she graduated at Fort Hare, she joined the staff of Ohlange Institute as a teacher. Thus did she choose to serve the nation and begin her professional life as an educator at a famous institution established by that outstanding co-founder of the African National Congress, John Langalibalele Dube.

The young graduate teacher from Fort Hare understood what John Dube had meant when, using the words and categories of his day, he wrote in 1907 to his famous African-American mentor, Booker T. Washington, whom he had first met in 1897, saying:

"A great number of civilised natives are anxious to push forward in spite of the prejudice of our white people. The condition (in South Africa) is much like that in the Southern States in America. They want our ignorant people to stay in their heathen condition so that they can only use them as beasts of burden. Those who aspire to something higher are not wanted."

As a member of the African National Congress and a traditional African Princess during the apogee of the age of colonialism and white minority rule in our country, she was determined to contribute everything she could to ensure that all her people, the African majority, should no longer be used by the white minority as beasts of burden.

Many of us present here today will have forgotten the time in 1987 when the then government of South Africa, under the leadership of P.W. Botha, proposed the establishment of what it called a National Council, which would negotiate a new constitution to end the deadly conflict then gripping our country.

In response to this desperate initiative to perpetuate apartheid rule, on 9 October 1987, the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress issued a Statement in which it said:

"We wish here to reiterate that the ANC has never been opposed to a negotiated settlement of the South African question. On various occasions in the past we have, in vain, called on the apartheid regime to talk to the genuine leaders of our people.

"Once more, we would like to reaffirm that the ANC and the masses of our people as a whole are ready and willing to enter into genuine negotiations provided they are aimed at the transformation of our country into a united and non-racial democracy. This, and only this, should be the objective of any negotiating process. Accordingly no meaningful negotiations can take place until all those concerned, and specifically the Pretoria regime, accept this perspective which we share with the whole of humanity.

"We further wish to state again that the questions whether or not to negotiate, and on what conditions, should be put to our entire leadership, including those who are imprisoned and who should be released unconditionally. While considering these questions our leadership would have to be free to consult and discuss with the people without let or hindrance…

"We reject without qualification the proposed National Council (NC) which the Botha regime seeks to establish through legislation to be enacted by the apartheid parliament. This can never be a genuine and acceptable mechanism to negotiate a democratic constitution for our country."

Fellow mourners, you may wonder why I use this opportunity to remind you of matters past, that confronted our nation two decades ago. I mention them so that even though Nkosazana Stella Sigcau is no longer with us, we should never forget what she did then, publicly to support the historic demands our movement made then, which ultimately opened the way to the peaceful resolution of the conflict that had gripped our country for more than three centuries.

As all of us would remember, at the moment to which I have referred, Stella Sigcau was Prime Minister of the nominally independent Republic of Transkei.

We welcomed her accession to this position, in a Republic we did not recognise, which was a product of the apartheid system, intended to help perpetuate white minority rule. We welcomed her elevation because we knew that circumstances has put in a position of influence, however limited, a patriot on whom we could rely further to intensify the assault on the apartheid system.

Thus when P.W. Botha declared his intention to establish his National Council, quietly we asked Nkosazana Nomzamo Sigcau to speak out as Prime Minister of Transkei, to restate the demands concerning the issue of negotiations made by her movement, which she had joined more than twenty years earlier.

Ever a woman of courage and principle, she did not hesitate to carry out this request. As she reaffirmed that despite its so-called independence, the Transkei remained an integral part of South Africa, she repeated what her movement had said, that any genuine negotiations had to be conducted with the genuine representatives of the people, and had to focus on the transformation of our country into a united and non-racial democracy.

Unfortunately, as some of our cadres, including Chris Hani and Charles Nqakula, engaged in preparations to bring her to Harare, Zimbabwe, to enable our leadership to discuss her tasks as a long-standing cadre of the ANC, she was removed from her position as Prime Minister of Transkei.

Stella Sigcau stood out among her generation of fighters for liberation as a unique individual. A Princess of the Kingdom of amaMpondo, she was ready to serve as an ordinary cadre of the African National Congress.

A descendant of a patriotic King of amaMpondo, who had been transported to and imprisoned on Robben Island in 1895 because of his opposition to the colonisation of his people by the British, member of one of the royal families that responded to Pixley ka Isaka Seme's call to support the African National Congress at its formation, first among equals with regard to the heroic Mpondo peasant masses who participated in the 1960 armed uprising, she did not use this distinguished political parenthood to claim a special place for herself among the cadres of our mass army for revolutionary change.

She understood the related obligations that arose from membership of our royal families and membership of the national movement which these royal families helped to form to bury the demon of tribalism, the African National Congress. She could therefore serve and did serve as both a royal princess and a revolutionary cadre of the ANC.

She understood too, that both traditional leadership and leadership of our national liberation movement derived their legitimacy from the extent to which they served the interests of the ordinary masses of our people.

Thus, in as much as Nkosazana Nomzamo Sigcau understood that Inkosi yiNkosi ngabantu, she also understood that Umbutho we Sizwe ngumbutho wabantu.

There are many among us today who can tell moving stories about what Stella Sigcau did to empower them to escape from the confined world of poverty and disempowerment imposed on the black majority by colonialism, apartheid and their legacy.

These would tell stories of what Stella Sigcau did to bring dignity to the rural women of the Transkei, for instance by facilitating their access to land, breaking an age-old tradition that, consistent with the dictates of patriarchy, gave the right of access to communal land only to the male members of the human species.

Others would recount what Stella Sigcau did, even within the restricted confines of the Transkei Bantustan, to create opportunities especially for young African women to qualify as properly trained professionals, able to take their place in a modern society as equals with their male counterparts, regardless of race.

Yet others would recount the determined actions that Stella Sigcau took, especially as Minister of Public Enterprises in democratic South Africa, to enable all black professionals, especially the women, accountants among them, to reach for the skies, by removing the invisible but real race and gender ceiling that limited the full flowering of some of the best in our society.

Others still would speak of what she did to create opportunities within the state-owned enterprises, and the enterprise sector as a whole, for yet other black people to gain skills and qualify as professionals, to honour John Dube's vision that no longer should our people be condemned to serve merely as beasts of burden.

There are thousands who may not physically be here today, but who are surely with us in spirit, who would speak of what Nkosazana Nomzamo Sigcau did as Minister of Public Works especially to empower women as building contractors and creators of the lived environment of good roads, modern sanitation, and other social and economic infrastructure without which we cannot claim that we are on course to restore the dignity of especially the working people of our country.

I am privileged to say that I believed that I understood well what the late Minister of Public Works - uMaStandi to the Ministers and Deputy Ministers to whom she had to allocate state houses - what she meant when she said, immediately before her retirement from public service, that she needed time to ensure that she did everything that needed to be done to guarantee that the Expanded Public Works Programme meets the hopes of the poor and disadvantaged, as their ladder to success and human fulfilment during this, our Age of Hope.

I am saddened by the fact that Nkosazana Stella Sigcau departed the world of the living before she completed the tasks she had set herself.

At the same time, I feel elevated that from near and afar, and for half-a-century, I could attach myself to such a noble human being as was Nkosazana Stella Margaret Nomzamo Sigcau.

Many a time, by the manner in which we conduct ourselves, we refuse to see the jewels that adorn the seemingly mundane activities that define our daily lives. The seemingly natural failure to see the stars that light our skies, before they wane and disappear as nature imposes its dictates, deprives us of the opportunity to sing the songs of praise that are due to them, while they live.

Nevertheless, having done to Stella Sigcau what we have become accustomed to do to our heroes and heroines, at her death we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that whereas we failed to acclaim what she meant to the nation while she lived, after her death, we are blessed with many opportunities to continue to celebrate her life.

This we will do by contemplating every passing day, and interacting with the products of her noble endeavours, as we, together with them, strive to restore the full human dignity to all our people that Nkosazana Stella Nomzamo Sigcau always knew belonged to her people as their natural right.

Mzi kaFaku siyabulela.
Xa sikhahlela sisithi Nyawuza, Thahla,
Asithengi mibengo.
Sithi nihlamba ngobubende,
Abanye behlamba ngamanzi
Ngoba sisazi
Ukuba nathi nizal' iNkosazana,
Kanti nizal' inkwenkwezi,
Nt' we' zoqaqamba d' ikhanyis' izulu;
Itshoba lendlovu elihesh' iimpukane,
Ukwenzel' ukuthi isizwe siphile ngolonwabo,
Sikhaziml' emazweni njengentyatyambo.
Ngoko ke, sithi lala ngoxolo Nkosazana yamaMpondo, ntombenkulu kaManzolwandle, kaNgqungqushe, kaNyawuza, kaThahla, kaFaku, ndlovukazi yesizwe sabaNtsundu sisonke, delakufa, bhinqa lenkululeko yabantu bonke boMzantsi Afrika!

Farewell dear friend and comrade. The nation will forever celebrate what you did to help all of us to regain our dignity as Africans. What you left undone we will strive to complete.

Therefore rest in peace in the knowledge that we will consider nothing you sought to be done as done, until it is done. Your dreams will still come to fruition.

To the Sigcau family, warriors for the emancipation of all our people in all their echelons, regardless of race and colour, and gender and age, and ability and geographic domicile, we say, humbly and with passion - akuhlanga lungehlanga: le nto kakade yinto yalonto! And thus do we say, death be not proud!

At the end, the very best we can say, which we say in all sincerity is - farewell! Hamba kahle, Nkosazana yohlanga, qhawekazi lesizwe!

Issued by The Presidency on 16 May 2006.


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