The legacy of Dr Zola Sk­weyiya

Vuk'uzenzele - - Special Tribute - Min­is­ter Nkosazane Dlamini-Zuma

Yet again the Na­tional Flag is fly­ing at half-mast at all flag sta­tions coun­try­wide and at South African Diplo­matic Mis­sions abroad as we mourn the pass­ing of an­other gal­lant hu­man rights fighter and ser­vant of the peo­ple of South Africa: Dr Zola Syd­ney Themba Sk­weyiya.

His un­timely death is a loss not only for his fam­ily and com­rades but also for the coun­try and the de­vel­op­ing world as a whole. Of­ten when con­fronted by the pass­ing of a com­rade one holds dear, the ini­tial in­stinct is one of de­nial, then even­tu­ally one of re­flec­tion. Of­ten the temp­ta­tion to merely re­flect on the in­di­vid­ual by strolling down the life of a per­son as if con­struct­ing a cur­ricu­lum vi­tae of the life of the in­di­vid­ual creeps in and many con­struct this CV on where one was born, lived, worked and so on. Sel­dom does one delve into key ques­tions such as What can one learn from the life of such a gi­gan­tic and colos­sal com­rade? What lessons can one draw from such a ded­i­cated and com­mit­ted com­rade, so that one can arm one’s self for the bat­tles ahead?

There is no doubt that the life of com­rade Zola is one of strug­gle, com­pas­sion and hu­man con­quest over ad­ver­sity. Leav­ing his birth place of Si­mon­stown, not out of choice but due to evic­tions, he was to find a child­hood home in what we now know as Nel­son Man­dela Bay. His quest and pur­suit for ed­u­ca­tion was to find him at that great foun­tain of knowl­edge of Lovedale, wherein he was to in­ter­act with many of our lead­ers in­clud­ing Oom Go­van Mbeki.

His life is also one which is in­ter­wo­ven with our story of the strug­gle and is in­ter­spersed with the por­traits of many of our strug­gle he­roes and hero­ines in­clud­ing Chris Hani whom he served with in the Luthuli De­tach­ment, Florence Mposho whom he worked with in the pro­mo­tion of chil­dren’s rights, Gertrude Shope whom he worked with in Zam­bia, OR Tambo whom he served un­der in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties in­clud­ing in the Le­gal Depart­ment and Nel­son Man­dela whom he coura­geously served un­der in the CODESA ne­go­ti­a­tions and in his Cabi­net, to name but a few.

What a gi­ant. What a great man who self­lessly sac­ri­ficed for us to at­tain our democ­racy and se­cure a bet­ter-qual­ity life for our peo­ple. What a priv­i­lege to have known him as a friend, com­rade and col­league; to have learnt from him and to have sponged of his wis­dom which he ac­quired over the years.

All was not in vain there is much we can learn from this great son of the soil, who spoke with com­pas­sion on hu­man rights and the right to de­vel­op­ment, amongst many other top­ics. In re­flect­ing on his life, I came across four pro­found ‘dan­gers’ he high­lighted dur­ing the Launch for A Safe South Africa Con­ven­tion back in Au­gust 2008. Lessons which re­main valu­able for our jour­ney ahead and to­wards eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion for our peo­ple, he warns that: “we as South Africans need to safe­guard against the dan­gers of fu­til­ity, ex­pe­di­ency, timid­ity and com­fort.”

The move­ment which we serve re­mains the leader of so­ci­ety. If mar­shalled well, in unity, we can make the req­ui­site step change to bring about eco­nomic free­dom and a bet­ter qual­ity of life for our peo­ple, es­pe­cially those that con­tinue to be marginalised es­pe­cially the women, chil­dren, youth and peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Through his lead­er­ship the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Ser­vices and Ad­min­is­tra­tion was es­tab­lished unit­ing 14 pub­lic ser­vices at var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment and the ethos of Batho Pele, putting our peo­ple first in the de­liv­ery of ser­vices was es­tab­lished. It was through his lead­er­ship that so­cial grants re­cip­i­ents moved from 4 mil­lion to just over 12 mil­lion thus pro­vid­ing a last­ing blow in our fight against hunger and poverty.

The sec­ond dan­ger is that of ex­pe­di­ency; of those who say that hopes and be­liefs must be sac­ri­ficed be­fore im­me­di­ate ne­ces­si­ties.

“Of-course if we must act ef­fec­tively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. How­ever, of heart and of mind and the ra­tio­nal ap­pli­ca­tion of hu­man ef­fort to hu­man prob­lems. Poverty is in it­self a form of op­pres­sion and we are all too aware of the ex­tent of poverty in our so­ci­ety.”

In­deed, many of us who have the priv­i­lege to serve our peo­ple of­ten fall into the ex­pe­di­ency mode and see the trees whilst for­get­ting the for­est. The task that there­fore lies ahead of us is one in which we must con­tinue to im­prove the liv­ing con­di­tions of poor, vul­ner­a­ble and un­der­priv­i­leged South Africans.

Dr Sk­weyiya fur­ther warns us of a third dan­ger, that of timid­ity. He says “Few men and women are will­ing to brave the dis­ap­proval of their fel­lows, the cen­sure of their col­leagues, and the wrath of their so­ci­ety. It is as Aris­to­tle put it “[It is not] the finest or the strong­est men who are crowned, but those who en­ter the lists.” How of­ten have we sat on the fence and cow­ard at the face of ad­ver­sity? “I be­lieve that in this gen­er­a­tion those with the courage to en­ter the con­flict will find them­selves with com­pan­ions in ev­ery cor­ner of the world.”

It was with this out­look that Dr Sk­weyiya ap­plied him­self es­pe­cially when it came to his work in the Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mit­tee which was es­tab­lished to de­velop a po­si­tion for our move­ment to­wards the Con­sti­tu­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions at the CODESA.

The fourth dan­ger is one of com­fort, es­pe­cially for those of us who are more for­tu­nate. He says: “the temp­ta­tion to fol­low the easy and fa­mil­iar path of per­sonal am­bi­tion and fi­nan­cial suc­cess so grandly spread be­fore those who have the priv­i­lege of an ed­u­ca­tion – to hide be­hind our high walls and se­cu­rity es­tates.” Dr Sk­weyiya was stead­fast in his be­lief that de­ployed cadres have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sur­ing the dig­nity of our peo­ple. As a govern­ment, we are proud that his legacy con­tin­ues today.

Through­out his long years in pub­lic ser­vice, and the count­less years that he spent fight­ing to bring about democ­racy and free­dom he al­ways re­mained a hum­ble and ded­i­cated leader. By any mea­sure his legacy is im­mense and will never fal­ter.

What he and oth­ers of his gen­er­a­tion achieved is truly in­spir­ing. They were in the front­lines at a time when the price for de­fy­ing the apartheid regime was of­ten death. Yet they con­tin­ued none­the­less, and in do­ing so had to sac­ri­fice all they held dear.

Iso­lated, con­stantly ha­rassed or forced into ex­ile, pa­tri­ots like Dr Zola Sk­weyiya lived know­ing that they might never see or taste the fruits of free­dom. But they never once took a step back­wards, so strong was their be­lief in the un­stop­pable des­tiny of a free and demo­cratic coun­try.

It re­mains an in­dict­ment on all of us that mil­lions of fel­low South Africans still re­main marginalised, poor and bereft of hope for a bet­ter fu­ture. This sim­ply can­not be, cer­tainly not in a coun­try with our re­sources and eco­nomic, in­tel­lec­tual and so­cial cap­i­tal.

His sad de­par­ture has de­prived his fam­ily of a ded­i­cated hus­band, fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and de­voted fam­ily man. Our na­tion is un­doubt­edly poorer for his pass­ing, but not even death can erase his legacy, he lives in the hearts and minds of mil­lions of our peo­ple es­pe­cially those who are pub­lic ser­vants and so­cial grant re­cip­i­ents.

Hamba Kahle Com­rade Zola, Qhawe lama Qhawe may your soul Rest in Peace, con­fi­dent in the knowl­edge that your legacy con­tin­ues.

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