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Ahmed Kathrada’s Funeral: A Catalyst for Change

“Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada passed away in the early hours of the morning on Mar. 28, 2017, leaving a nation in mourning. His death occurred amidst thick political tension due to the rumored cabinet reshuffle. The next day, a funeral was held to honor the man who fought tirelessly to free our country from the clutches of injustice. Many politicians and notable persons attended the funeral to pay their respects, including former president Kgalema Motlanthe and former minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan. However, President Jacob Zuma did not attend, as per the wishes of the family.

In recent years, Kathrada has spoken out against the wrongs of the African National Congress, an organization that he was involved in for most of his life. He began to openly criticize President Jacob Zuma for the turn his leadership has taken and voiced his concerns to the public.

Kathrada’s open letter to the President was read out during his funeral by Kgalema Motlanthe. Kathrada had stated that if he were in Zuma’s shoes, he would have stepped down as the President of the Republic of South Africa. This was after Zuma had been found to have violated the Constitution. Mourners supported the notion with cries of “Phantsi, Zuma” 

In the fiasco created by Zuma’s charges against Pravin Gordhan, Kathrada stood by Gordhan throughout November’s trial.  In the open letter to Zuma, Kathrada stated that there was an “undisguised campaign” against Gordhan. On the day of Kathrada’s death, then finance minister Pravin Gordhan was abruptly ordered to leave the investment roadshow on which he had embarked. These orders came from President Jacob Zuma. Following this, the strength of the Rand entered into a downward spiral.

This funeral was just the beginning of a long chain of events that would unite an entire nation against the monsters of injustice.

Mar. 31 saw a late night, sudden cabinet reshuffle by President Zuma (also known as the Midnight Ministerial Massacre). At least nine ministers were fired during this reshuffle. Amongst those who were axed was finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas. Replacing Pravin Gordhan with home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba caused major public concern over South Africa’s struggling economy and its future.

When the country received a junk status, the citizens decided that they had endured enough. Nelson Mandela once said, If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”, and that is exactly what the citizens have decided to do. Calls for Zuma to step down echoed across the country, and protests were organized. What started out as a small “Save South Africa” protest outside the treasury, where Gordhan delivered his last words as finance minister, became a nationwide march.

Gordhan called for mass mobilization against injustice and corruption, criticizing the country’s current leadership. The masses heeded Gordhan’s call. A Black Monday protest was organized followed by a nationwide protest on Friday, Apr. 7. Organizations, opposition parties, prominent members of society and citizens took to the streets on this national day of action to call for Zuma to step down. These marches were met with some resistance from the ANC Youth League (aptly dubbed Zuma’s Cheer Squad) but the protests persisted.

However, despite all of this, Zuma’s determined hold on power has remained firm.

A motion of no confidence in President Zuma has been scheduled for May, and this will determine our country’s future. In the meantime, we will fight to save our country from the shadows of injustice that threaten us once more.

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Aishvarya Singh
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Aishvarya Singh is an aspiring writer and law student. She is into books, Bollywood and social justice. When she's not writing, she is either binge watching series or reading. She lives in South Africa, and no, she does not have a pet lion. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ai5hvarya Email:

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