Eulogy by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Official Funeral of former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Aziz Goolam Hoosein Pahad, West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg, 30 September 2023
The extended Pahad family,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Leadership of the African National Congress,
Leadership of the Alliance and Democratic Movement,
Leaders of Political Parties,
Members of the Diplomatic Community,
Religious and community leaders present,
Comrades and friends,
Today is a sad day.
It is a sad for the Pahad family, a family that produced stalwarts of our liberation struggle.
Your grief is all the greater at the passing of Aziz, having also lost your dear sons Essop and Junaid just a few months ago.
It is a sorrowful occasion for the African National Congress, for the South African Communist Party and for the wider democratic movement. We have lost a comrade, a friend and a patriot who dedicated his life to the liberation of our country and its people.
It is a sad day for the diplomatic community, particularly for the many men and women chosen to represent our country abroad who had the privilege of being mentored, counselled and trained by our departed brother and comrade.
Over the past few years, we have had to bid farewell to many dear comrades; men and women who were giants of the liberation struggle.
As much as it is the nature of existence that we all have a fixed time upon this earth, we feel their loss keenly, each and every one of them.
They played such an important role in the history of our country. They were there at all the high and low points in our struggle for liberation and remained on to shepherd us along the difficult road to democracy.
At times such as this one, when we lose another stalwart, we are shaken, as would a tree whose roots have been damaged or lost.
These great men and women, of whom Aziz Pahad was one, were the roots that nourished the tree of our democracy. It feels as though a part of us has gone with them.
And yet, such were the legacies they left behind that this great tree that is our democracy, abides.
We may at times be battered by strong headwinds. Times can be hard.
But the democracy that Aziz Pahad and his generation worked so hard to achieve remains firm, steady, well-anchored and strong.
As they pass into the next life, our great democracy that they helped birth, outlives them. It is this legacy we remember today. It inspires us and gives us courage.
Aziz Pahad will be remembered for his many fine attributes and we will have reflected on some of them today.
He was an activist who played a formative role in the liberation movement in exile in the 1960s and beyond, and was a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement in Europe and the United Kingdom.
He was one of the leading figures of the liberation movement that facilitated talks between the exiled ANC and representatives of the Afrikaner community in the mid-1980s.
He was a hardworking public servant, most notably as the long-serving Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position he held from when we attained our democracy in 1994 until 2008.
It is this role for which the South African people know him best. He was a prominent voice in the foreign affairs space, an astute diplomat, a legendary networker and for the many who worked with him, a warm and affable colleague.
Since his passing there have been many tributes to Aziz, and to the role he played in the international relations arena in the formative years of our democracy.
In this regard his legacy is assured.
As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was involved in peacebuilding and mediation efforts in a number of conflicts on the continent and in the Middle East.
In reflecting on his life and contribution, we should draw on the words of Islam’s Holy Book the Qur’an where it speaks about the virtue of steadfastness.
In chapter 16 verse 96 it says:
“Whatever you have will end, but whatever Allah has is everlasting. And we will certainly reward the steadfast according to the best of their deeds”.
We all know that Aziz Pahad was not a man given to sentimentality, nor to false exhibitions of piety.
He never laid claim to being overly virtuous. We will remember him for his dry wit and his irreverence, be it about politics, matters of faith or the human condition in general.
And yet I draw inspiration from this verse because steadfastness, unwavering commitment, humility and quiet strength defined our departed comrade and brother.
As we bid him farewell at the end of his earthly journey, it is necessary that we not only reflect on a distinguished career, but on what made him so good at what he did and what we can learn from him.
He gave meaning to the idea of servant leadership.
In whatever role he was given, he showed steadfastness, self-reliance, commitment to a greater cause, lack of ego and principle.
Those who have read his fine book, Insurgent Diplomat, will have been struck by a narrative that is not so much about an individual and their exploits, than it is a charting of the evolution of our country’s foreign policy and those who enriched it.
This was vintage Aziz Pahad.
It was never about him. He never sought to place himself at the centre of the narrative of our democratic history.
He was not consumed by the pursuit of fame, status or the accumulation of riches.
For him, South Africa was the central character. The democratic state was the protagonist of the South African story.
Such is the nature of truly great men and women.
They are servants of the people. They are willing and prepared to serve, whether it is in high office or in the trenches. They are not obsessed with titles, prestige or being courted.
Over the years he gave interviews to talk about his book, about the country’s foreign policy orientation, and also to express his concerns about what he saw as the liberation movement straying from its founding values.
He did not use his stature as a liberation stalwart to speak down to anyone or to level critique that was solely informed by his own opinions. Instead, he called for us to embrace each other across the race, class and political divide, to put our differences aside and work for the betterment of our country.
In an interview in 2014 he also called on South Africans of all races “to return to grounds of common interest in order to build on them and advance”.
It has been said that when a great man or woman dies, for years the light they leave behind lies on the path.
We have in recent times laid to rest a great many stalwarts of our freedom struggle, and today we bid farewell to one more.
Even as we must eulogise them, we would not be honest if we did not acknowledge that many of them departed this life disappointed by what they were witnessing.
They have seen the liberation movement to which they dedicated their lives being racked by factionalism and in-fighting. They have seen the democratic government being eroded by corruption.
They have seen public anger and impatience at the inability of government to respond with the necessary urgency to their needs.
In one interview, Aziz Pahad said: “We dare not forget that we are the servants of our fellow countrymen. The concept of Batho Pele, of putting people first, is disappearing like mist before the sun”.
We, who remain, have a responsibility to ensure that Batho Pele does not disappear, but that it is restored, revitalised and once again stands at the centre of all our efforts.
For the legacy of stalwarts like Aziz Pahad to have meaning they cannot be confined to the history books. They must be returned to, again and again, learned from and taken forward.
These stalwarts were once the strong roots that held us firm. Over the passage of time new roots have grown and new shoots have blossomed. We owe it to the generation that paved the way to freedom to not let those roots wither or die.
We must return this country to the path of fundamental transformation and our liberation movement to its founding values.
To do so requires hard work. It demands sacrifice and putting the needs of the people first. It needs men and women disinterested in status and position, like Aziz Pahad and his generation.
As we lay Aziz Pahad to rest today, let us be mindful of the weighty responsibility we carry to ensure that their sacrifices were not in vain and that their legacies have meaning.
Great nations are built through the efforts of the courageous, the principled and the steadfast. Such was the man we bury today.
To the extended Pahad family, our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of great difficulty. Thank you for sharing him with us. He will be sorely missed.
To Him we Belong and to Him we Shall Return.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency