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South Africa has reburied Dr Alfred Bathini Xuma who died 58 years ago on January 27, 1962.
Read President Cyril Ramaphosa’s eulogy as sent to TODAY NEWS AFRICA by the presidency in South Africa.
It is with the greatest of honour that I join this congregation today.
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The re-interment of Dr Alfred Bathini Xuma is an occasion tinged with sadness, as we remember the great loss that was his passing on the 27th of January 1962.
But we are also comforted and our hearts are gladdened, for we have brought our father home.
In relating the death of Jacob, the Scriptures speak of how, as he was about to pass away, he said:
“I am about to be gathered to my people, so bury me with my fathers.”
Today, after many years, our father, our friend, our brother and our leader has at last been gathered to us, his people.
He has been brought to his final resting place in this the land of his forebears.
We have accorded him a Special Official Funeral as a mark of honour to him, to the family, and to the men and women of Engcobo who birthed such a fine, distinguished and illustrious son.
At Heroes Park, a statue has been erected.
It stands tall as a tribute and a reminder to the people of the Eastern Cape of the great responsibility you shoulder to carry on his legacy.
It has been 58 years since Alfred Bathini Xuma passed away.
But the footprint he left behind was deep and cannot be erased.
He was the first black South African to become a medical doctor, a qualification he earned abroad through great sacrifice.
When he returned home he campaigned for the right of all South Africans to receive decent standards of health care.
He appealed to the colonial authorities for more doctors and nurses to work in black communities to care for their needs.
He believed that neither race nor social circumstance should be a barrier to medical care, and rejected the inferior medical education being offered to black doctors and nurses.
It was under the leadership of Dr Alfred Bathini Xuma that the African National Congress adopted the African Claims’ document at its annual conference on the 16th of December 1943.
This seminal document laid out the African people’s demands for full equality and citizenship rights.
Most importantly, it prioritised the South African people’s right to land ownership.
It made an unequivocal demand for a fair redistribution of the land, rightly describing the race-based system as unjust and contrary to the interests of South Africa.
It rightly declared that the right to own, buy, hire or lease and occupy land individually or collectively, both in rural and in urban areas, was a fundamental right of citizenship.
It is of great significance that our nation will soon see realised some of the social reforms that Dr AB Xuma championed for most of his life.
For the first time in the history of our country, every South African man, woman and child will have equal access to health care when the National Health Insurance becomes reality.
That we have reached this point is the culmination of a journey that was first embarked upon by Dr AB Xuma and the other pioneers of our liberation struggle.
Also this year, the democratic government will be forging ahead with the process of land reform and redistribution, guided by the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
In doing so, we are giving effect to the provisions of the African Claims’ document, the Freedom Charter and, above all, our Constitution.
Dr AB Xuma left a profound and lasting impression in the annals of our country.
Nowhere was this felt greater than in the African National Congress, the organisation he led from 1940 to 1949 as its seventh and then longest-serving President.
He inherited an ANC that was beset by challenges during a time of great political upheaval.
There was an upsurge in independent social movements and independent trade unions were on the rise.
A wave of housing, transport and worker’s strikes were also all being led independently of the ANC.
Under Dr Xuma’s leadership, the ANC was built into a strong and cohesive political force, leading the Congress Alliance into a programme of mass action in the 1950s.
He understood that the ANC must be built from the grassroots, and that its strength and power lay in the branches.
He travelled across the country to recruit members, to open new branches and to appoint organisers.
He mobilised previously neglected constituencies, such as workers, chiefs, communists, youth and women.
In 1943, equal membership rights were extended to women for the first time.
In this regard we pay tribute to his second wife, Madie Hall Xuma, who led the ANC Women’s League from 1943 to 1949.
She organised and mobilised women, raised funds and established the League as a vibrant programme-based organisation.
We also pay tribute to Dr Xuma’s first wife, Amanda Mason, who unfortunately died very early in their matrimonial life in 1934.
They are both Mothers of our Nation and we remember and honour them.
It was during Dr Xuma’s presidency that the ANC Youth League was formed.
He held political discussions with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede and other youth leaders at his home, and encouraged the formation of the youth organisation to take forward the aims of the liberation struggle.
At the ANC Youth League’s inaugural meeting in 1944, he said of the young leaders:
“I know they are launching their movement in the interest of the national movement…I know they are not self-seekers, but patriots out to strengthen the mother-body.”
And indeed the ANC Youth League revitalised the mother body, and continues to do so.
Dr Xuma emphasised that the liberation movement was a broad church, and that accommodation of ideological difference was critical to unity.
He stood firmly against racial and ethnic chauvinism.
It was during his tenure that in March 1947 the ANC and the Indian congresses of Transvaal and Natal signed what became known as the Doctor’s Pact, setting the basis for more meaningful cooperation among all oppressed South Africans.
Dr AB Xuma took the ANC from a position of relative weakness to become a formidable political force.
He set it on a trajectory that ultimately led to the freedom of this country.
We draw many lessons from his life.
He will be remembered for having instilled in the ANC a culture of robust intellectual engagement.
He believed a healthy exchange of ideas was necessary, and that ideological differences should not hold an organisation to ransom, tear it apart or undermine its coherence, leadership and authority.
He was a champion of financial inclusion for women, and believed they must be economically empowered and included in the economy.
He was moved by the plight of African women who sold home-brewed beer to survive and support their families.
In 1931 he testified at the Native Economic Commission and the Liquor Commission where he said that instead of stigmatising the women for what was then illegal activity, it was an illegal system that left women vulnerable to poverty that was really to blame.
Today is International Women’s Day, and we once again affirm our commitment as government to making women full and equal participants in our economy.
We will forge ahead with implementing policies and programmes that give effect to this, whether it is in reforming public procurement laws to ensure more beneficiaries are women, in ensuring that the rights of women are protected when it comes to ownership of land, or being firm in our resolve to stamp out gender-based violence.
When we assumed the Chair of the African Union a few weeks ago at the African Heads of State and Government Summit. We committed that as South Africa one of our key priorities is the fight against Gender Based Violence as well the empowerment, financial and economic inclusion of women.
We want to rid our continent of the scourge of gender based violence and have embarked on a number of programmes and initiatives that are aimed at achieving precisely this.
We know that here in Engcobo women face many challenges and life is hard.
We know that empowering a woman is empowering a family, a community and a nation.
That is why we will continue to work hard to ensure that the problems facing the women of Engcobo, like access to water, to proper housing, to land and to health care are addressed.
With the new District Development Model we are changing the way we deliver services to our people, and ensuring that jobs and economic opportunities don’t just go to those who live in the cities and metros.
We are looking at ways to breathe new life into the rural economies, and how the resources of places like Engcobo can be used to support new industries, new businesses and cooperatives led by women.
As part of the land reform process, we are going to ensure that women have access to land and are able to become owners of land, and that we as government give them our full support.
Dr Alfred Xuma was an exemplary leader in times of both difficulty and stability.
His stewardship of the ANC and before that of the All African Convention was defined by revolutionary discipline, ethics and commitment to the greater good, the liberation of South Africa.
His tenure was free of scandal and suggestions of impropriety.
We should follow in his footsteps in the positions we have been entrusted with, in national government, in our provinces and in our municipalities.
He took his role seriously and discharged it faithfully.
He forged consensus and unity.
He understood then, as we do today, that if we fall prey to division, dissent and discord, we will never achieve our aims.
As a country, we are faced with a great many challenges, but we will overcome them if we are united and work together as a people.
In 1964, the poet WH Auden wrote:
“When a just man dies, lamentation and praise, sorrow and joy are one.
What he was, what he is fated to become, depends on us.
Remembering his death, how we choose to live will decide its meaning.”
As inheritors of the great legacy of Dr AB Xuma, we must indeed choose how we wish to live.
We can surrender to pessimism, or we can come together to transform the fortunes of our great nation.
We remember him and we will continue to live out the values for which he stood.
They are the values contained in our Constitution.
They are the values of compassion, of empathy and of helping others.
He lived up to the motto of his school, Clarkebury Institution, here in the Eastern Cape, which is: “Lift as you Rise”.
As he finds his final resting place, on behalf of the government and people of South Africa, I offer our condolences to the family and thank them for having lent us this great man and son of the soil.
I want to thank the government of the Eastern Cape for honouring the request of the Xuma family for their father to be reburied.
Your actions are a practical demonstration of the need to keep our history alive so it is imparted to the younger generation.
Dr Alfred Bathini Xuma played his part and in his memory let us do the same.
We bid you farewell, good and faithful servant of the people.
Rest in eternal peace.
You will be forever remembered and never forgotten.
I thank you.