Oration by the President of the Republic of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, at the funeral service of the late Cleopas Mododa Nsibande, 3 January 2009, Benoni

Master of Ceremonies

UMama wethu uMam` Sarah

Umndeni wonke wakwa Nsibande,

Abantwana, izizukulu nezizukulwana

Sithi akuhlanga lungehlanga!

Members of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress

Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Premier of Gauteng, Mr. Paul Mashatile

And Mayors present

The leadership of SACP, COSATU and SANCO

President of the IFP, Dr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Esteemed Business and Community leaders

Our religious leaders and friends

Ladies and gentlemen

Three days into the beginning of the year 2009 we are gathered here to pay our last respects to an adorable man, uBab` Cleopas Madoda Nsibande.

Sad and pained, we are bidding farewell to one of the most outstanding veterans, a unionist, a well-rounded ANC leader and a devotee to human freedom.

On behalf of government, let me take this opportunity to express our deepest condolences to the Nsibande family.

Although we may never understand the full pain of your loss, I know you will understand what I mean when I say that: "your loss is our loss too".

Indeed your loss is our loss because uBab`s Nsibande was a man of the people who dedicated sixty years of his life to the course of freedom.

During these sixty years of toiling for human freedom in its totality, uBab` Nsibande was as much a loving member of the Nsibande family as he was a loving member of the extended ANC family.

Since uBab` Nsibande adhered to the philosophy of workers` rights, he was equally as much a leader of the ANC as he was a leader of the trade union movement.

In his life, he served these three homes with supreme commitment, equally drifting in and out of each role as the occasion arises, without once feeling the weight of the history he was carrying on his mighty shoulders.

Therefore, those among us old enough to be familiar with the life and time of uBab` Nsibande will understand that the pain arising from his loss cuts across different formations in the Congress Movement.

His contemporaries in the ANC, with whom he stoically faced detention, harassment, banning, harassments, beatings and even murder, will understand the depths of pain caused by the departure of such a humble servant of our people.

uBab` Nsibande was a product of his own environment ? a product of his own environment a product and a maker of history.

Let us reaffirm without any fear of contradiction that this comrade we are laying to rest today was a disciplined member of the ANC; he led by example; he epitomised the values that he championed.

Unassuming, he performed huge tasks for his organisation, without stepping forward for election into any position, many of which he would have qualified for and performed per excellence!

To the last minute of his life, he believed that the ANC is best suited and capable of mobilising South Africans for freedom and later on, for effectuating a better life for all.

As a loyal member of the ANC and a treason trialist himself, he remained true to the principles of the Freedom Charter adopted in Kliptown in 1955, believing that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

That remarkable combination a trade unionist, a freedom fighter, an underground operator and a respected community leader- embodied in one person, was as singular and exceptional during his youth days as it is today.

In 1953 the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act was promulgated thus superseding the 1942 War Measure. The then Minister of Labour, Ben Schoeman declared:

"I think the hon. members must realize that if we give that incentive to natives to organize- and we must bear in mind that they are primitive and illiterate natives who have not the faintest conception of the responsibilities of trade unionism, that they are people who cannot even read the constitution of a trade union, who know nothing about negotiation or the industrial set-up of South Africa - if we give them that incentive to organize and they should become well organised - and again bearing in mind that there are almost 1,000,000 native workers in industry and commerce today- that they can use their trade unions as a political weapon and they can create chaos in South Africa at any given time.

I think that we should probably be committing race suicide if we gave them that incentive."

We should thus understand the characterisation of uBab` Nsibande as committed, dedicated and selfless beyond the mere daily use of these descriptions.

This way we can then sufficiently comprehend what it took for the young uBab` Nsibande to commit his life to the cause of worker``s freedom, underlain with the deep understanding that in apartheid South Africa black workers could not lay claim to workers` rights outside the ambit of national freedom.

It took a high level of deciphering national conditions in South Africa of the time, and an equally brave heart, for men such as uBab` Cleopas Nsibande to face up to the demands of the age, prepared to face the attendant repercussions.

History is often not made during moments of pleasure and joy, but in conditions of hardship when the oppressed are faced with the option of fighting for what is just or submitting themselves to perpetual subjugation.

UBab` Nsibande chose to fight against injustice on all fronts and therefore contributed to the remaking of our history.

As we continue to bask in the glory of our hard won freedom even as we strive to achieve the objectives of a just, equal and prosperous South African society, we do so fully conscious that our current struggle is based on the solid foundations laid by the contributions of men and women of uBab` Nsibande`s calibre.

(18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Chapter One)

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living...."

In this light we should contend, without flinching even once, that uBab` Nsibande was part of the human agency that consciously made history even as history imposed itself on them.

Along with his contemporaries in the ANC, uBab` Nsibande willingly responded to the imperatives which impelled those who suffered oppression to rise against a monstrous political system whose tentacles suffocated life out of every aspect of society.

Through the formation of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), of which he was a founder member and one of its Vice President, uBab` Nsibande sought to and succeeded in creating a formidable force which would not only defend the rights of all workers affiliated to it but challenge the very basis of the political system.

He counted, among his comrades, such trade union luminaries and political leaders as Pieter Beyleveld, Vuyisile Mini, Caleb Mayekiso, Lucy Mvubelo, Leslie Massina, Leon Levy, Mark Shope, Uriah Maleka, Frances Baard, Billy Nair, Curnick Ndlovu, Phyllis Altman, Liz Abrahams, Mary Moodley (of Benoni), Lawrence Ndzanga and John Nkadimeng-among many others.

All these heroes would, through the trade union movement and, later on, their beloved organisation, the African National Congress (ANC), shake the edifice of apartheid to its foundations, and in the process suffer immensely at the hands of those entrusted with defending oppression.

However, the hardness of the struggle, including the dreadful prospect of death, could not dissuade them from the cause they had chosen to fight for so that South Africa should at the end belong to all who live in it, black and white.

During its founding conference on the 05 and 06 March 1955, SACTU clearly signalled its advanced perspective on the black people`s struggle when it adopted a declaration which states that (I quote):

"The future of the people of South Africa is in the hands of its workers. Only the working class, in alliance with progressive minded sections of the community, can build a happy life for all South Africans, a life free from unemployment, insecurity, and poverty, free from racial hatred and oppression, a life of vast opportunities for all people".

Although he could have chosen to be blinded by anger at the racial arrogance that spit virulent venom into the daily life of black people, uBab` Nsibande elected to build a happy life for all South Africans, a life free from unemployment, a life free of poverty, and a life free of racial hatred and oppression.

Importantly, we are indeed thankful to the vision of uBab` Nsibande for discerning the role of a trade union movement in apartheid South Africa as intrinsically linked to the non-racial future the oppressed were seeking to build, guided by the ANC.

Accordingly, the President of the ANC at the time, Chief Albert Luthuli, also appreciated the new force in the form of SACTU which would increase the momentum towards a non-racial future.

Of this, Chief Luthuli submitted that:

"I am happy that SACTU has not listened to the ill advice that they should not be interested in politics. There is a Zulu saying that if you are pricked by a thorn you also have to use a thorn to get it out. Workers are oppressed by political action; they must take political action in reply."

(Chief Luthuli, Workers Unity, May 1959)

The leadership of SACTU concretised this vision of a non-racial, democratic and just society through word and deed.

To this end, SACTU, through its leadership that included uBab`` Nsibande, actively participated in the Congress of the People campaign, an ANC nation-wide campaign bringing together South Africans of all races whose intention was to put forward their demands for the South Africa they wanted.

Needless to say that this historic Congress of the People resulted in the Freedom Charter, a document that was to guide our struggle since then, and on whose letter and spirit the democratic South Africa is built.

I first learned about Comrade Nsibande from the late Billy Nair who had served with him in the first NEC of SACTU in 1955, and I was later directed to him and the late Cde. Diza Phuthini by Cde. Walter Sisulu who insisted that I should consult them before establishing legal structures of the ANC in Gauteng.

uBab` Nsibande is one of those struggle heroes whose contribution to our freedom makes it almost impossible for us to speak of the history of struggle without singling them out for special mention.

For sixty years of his active life, he carried on with a commitment to lift human society to a higher state in political, social and economic domains.

We can have no doubt that, generationally speaking, in the annals of our political history this act we are engaging in will close one of the last pages of the most inspiring chapter in the history of the South African freedom struggle.

Comrade Nsibande lived and worked for unity. He came to Luthuli House on more than three occasions to meet the President of the ANC, comrade Jacob Zuma and myself to convey to us the urgency of meeting with Dr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi with the view of normalising relations between our organisations. His last visit to us was exactly one week before he was admitted to hospital. This was his last command to us and we are duty bound to honour it.

Indeed the trail of deeds he interwove with history will ennoble his memory for ever, because, as Miguel De Cervantes stated: "Good actions ennoble us, we are the sons of our own deeds".

We are the sons of our own deeds.

We are proud to have had Comrade Cleopas Madoda Nsibande as one of our own!

Lala ngoxolo Goje, Mdlanyoka!

Ngiyabonga kakhulu.

I thank you.