Who told JZ not to come?
Neeshan Balton, the executive director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, said he was unaware of a decision being made to ask President Jacob Zuma not to go to Kathrada’s funeral. The struggle stalwart’s niece, Zohra Kathrada-Aerington, also said the family had nothing to do with Zuma’s absence.
“I’m not aware of any member of the foundation who would have been in communication with anybody in government,” Balton said. Kathrada died at 4am on Tuesday. According to Muslim law, the funeral had to take place within 24 hours.
“So there was no family member who I think would have been in direct communication with anybody in government. People might have that sentiment, but I’m not sure who would have expressed it,” Balton said.
“From our side, there is no ill feeling towards the president. While Uncle Kathy did call on him to resign, he had tremendous respect for the president.
“Where he differed fundamentally was regarding the president’s violation of the Constitution. He did not like the Nkandla idea – and it’s around those things that he thought it would be in the best of interest of the ANC and the country for the president to resign.
“But he did so not with a degree of ill feeling. My sense is that the contents of the funeral would be something that he would have supported,” Balton said.
Balton said Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were neither invited to the funeral, nor was there a plan for them to speak at the event.
“I understand the sentiments of the president and I can appreciate that it might have been inferred from what was going on on social media and everywhere else. I can respect any head of state who thinks that his presence might not be welcome somewhere, and, when people are grieving, you don’t want to add to controversy. We certainly did not invite anybody formally to the proceedings,” he said.
Asked whether Zuma had confirmed with the foundation if Kathrada had such wishes, Balton said he did not think there was enough time for that to have happened.
The main speakers, he said, were from the foundation to avoid “getting into any controversy”.
Only the ANC, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party were invited to pay tributes, but the organisations were not told who should speak on their behalf.
“We did not even tell the members of the foundation what they needed to say. All we said was do whatever you think needs to be done that is in keeping with the character, values and life of Ahmed Kathrada,” he said.