The family of our late icon, comrade Joe Slovo,
Leadership of the vanguard party, the South African Communist Party, the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions,
Comrades, it is with great pride and equally a sense of humility and deep self-introspection that we gather to remember the 29th anniversary of the passing of comrade Joe Slovo. It is a chance to reflect on the example that cde JS led by and to ask whether we are doing justice to his legacy?
As we gather, our movement, the working class, the state and the nation are facing great challenges, the majority of whose seeds were laid by centuries of racist colonial and apartheid rule, but equally some where our own failings cannot be absolved.
It is never easy to imagine what a comrade who would have felt or done had he been alive to witness our challenges, but we can reflect on the example set by cde JS under times far more difficult than those we encounter in a democratic South Africa.
Comrade Slovo’s journey was influenced by the pogroms Jewish people faced in Eastern Europe which led his family to immigrate to South Africa from Lithuania when he was a young boy. He joined the South African military and was deployed to North Africa during World War II and was appalled by the horrors of war, fascism and Nazism.
He returned to South Africa determined to play his part in the liberation of all the people and the creation of a non-racial democracy. He played his part in wherever the movement needed his services were from the Congress of Democrats to the ANC, from the CPSA to the relaunched SACP, from Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe to General Secretary of the SACP, and in 1994 as our first Minister for Housing.
JS was renowned for his discipline, dedication, strategic foresight, humility and honesty. He was the living embodiment of what a cadre should be. This is why the apartheid regime feared and demonized him, and why the people loved him.
We believe he would be pleased with the themes of today’s memorial of tackling gender-based violence, femicide and sexual harassment, of asserting the right to learn and women’s right to reproductive health. When he accepted Madiba’s call to be the Minister for Housing, it was because he wanted to improve the material conditions of the poor, downtrodden and the working class.
Are we doing justice to this struggle for gender equity? Or have we reduced it to a season slogan of 16 days of activism?
Parliament did well to pass the 3 gender-based acts. But has the state trained all police officers, health workers, teachers, court officials and other critical persons to ensure workers are well empowered to enforce their implementation?
Is the registry for sex offenders live and being populated? Can society access it? Have we resourced police stations, hospitals, schools and courts to ensure GBV cases are identified, prioritised and dealt with?
If we have not, then can we truly say we are fulfilling the mandate society has given us? Are we doing justice to the seriousness of the pandemic of GBV?
JS would always admonish us to be honest with the masses and ourselves and not to raise the hopes of society if we were not going to fulfill them.
We believe cde JS would be proud of the strides successive ANC administrations have made in addressing the massive legacies of apartheid and colonial rule and that we spend 60% of the budget on trying to uplift the poor. He would commend government for passing the National Minimum Wage, responding with a comprehensive social-economic relief package in response to COVID-19, passing the National Health Insurance Bill and laying the foundations for a Basic Income Grant. He would be proud of the solidarity South Africa has shown with the people of Palestine.
He would likely cheer us on for the corners we are beginning to make in reducing unemployment from 46% to 41%, the painful levels of loadshedding and the other areas of progress we have begun to see over the past year.
But he would have been pained at the behaviour of many of our own. He did not mince words. There would have been no beating around the bush to expose those who sold the nation during the decade of state capture, collapsed countless state-owned enterprises and municipalities. JS would very likely have wanted us to lead from the front in ensuring that those amongst who stole from the poor were sent to prison.
JS was clear, the state is there to serve the poor and not the wealthy or those elected to office. He was not one for self-enrichment. This was the Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the one founded in 1961 in pursuit of the liberation of the poor, not a cheap rip off founded yesterday in defence of one individual’s ego and the actions of some who betrayed the hopes of the nation and the trust of the movement.
Comrade Slovo never hid from the weaknesses of the movement and was honest and open about where he felt we needed to do better. But we do not believe that he would want us to give up when times were difficult. He never did. Not when his children were harassed by the police, nor when his family was forced into exile, nor when his wife, Ruth First, was assassinated by the apartheid regime.
So, we dare not fail our late General Secretary and Chief of Staff. Let us continue to follow his unblemished legacy of service to the masses, of incorruptibility, of building a united Alliance. Let us go to each workplace, street, informal area, village, township and suburb over the next few months in defence of what the movement led by the ANC has delivered since 1994, honestly explain where we have let the nation down and what we are doing and will do to improve the lives of the people.
It will be difficult, but we dare not fear battle nor disappoint the masses who depend upon this movement of Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Chris Hani and so many others.
Thank you. Matla!