Dignitaries expected to pay last respects to Ahmed Kathrada

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to give a political tribute to Ahmed Kathrada before the funeral proceedings for the late struggle stalwart get underway.

FILE: Ahmed Kathrada looks on as Palestinian Liberation Front veteran Leila Khaled (not in picture) speaks at a press conference upon her arrival at the OR Tambo international Airport on February 6, 2015 in Johannesburg. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – Dozens of dignitaries, including members of the African National Congress (ANC)’s top six are expected to pay their last respects at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg for the burial of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada.

On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma declared a special official funeral for the liberation activist but this morning, the Presidency confirmed he would not be in attendance.

No reason was given for his absence.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation yesterday denied the president was barred from being at the cemetery and has only indicated that Zuma would not be a speaker at the service.

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to give a political tribute to Kathrada before the funeral proceedings get underway.

The foundation CEO Neeshan Balton says: “The funeral will be at Westpark Cemetery at 10am and then there will be other tributes from various other sectors there. There will be an interfaith service, culminating in a Muslim prayer and Muslim burial.”

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the state’s special official memorial, set to take place on Wednesday morning.

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MBEKI PAYS TRIBUTE

An emotional former President Thabo Mbeki has paid tribute to Kathrada, saying his death is a major and painful loss to South Africa.

Mbeki said the country has lost one of the loyal giants of the struggle.

He also said Kathrada never gave up on the ANC despite its leadership troubles.

“Kathy, for all of these years that he’s been in the struggle, he’s been very loyal to the struggle, its objectives and outcomes. The fact that he would stay in the ANC despite being very critical of the leadership and things that have gone wrong, it wouldn’t surprise me.”

The former president said Kathrada’s death should not hinder the vital discussion between ANC veterans and leaders on ways to fix the party’s current problems.

Mbeki said Kathrada would have wanted the process to continue and ultimately succeed.

“I must say that he was quite fearless in terms of his determination to confirm what was wrong in the ANC.”

LISTEN: Ahmed Kathrada: A gentle freedom warrior

SELFLESS LEADER

Kathrada is being remembered as a selfless freedom fighter, a champion of the people and a role model to all leaders.

In recent years, Kathrada was a vocal critic of President Jacob Zuma.

Just last year, the struggle stalwart wrote an open letter to Zuma in which he implored him to resign.

“Dear Comrade President, don’t you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?”

And with those words, struggle stalwart Kathrada made his position on President Zuma abundantly clear.

In the letter, he describes how he agonised for a while before writing to the president adding it was painful for him.

He said it had never occurred to him that the time would come when he would feel obliged to express his concerns in this manner.

WATCH: Ahmed Kathrada dies at the age of 87

He reminded Zuma that the position of president is one that “must at all times unite the country behind a vision and programme that seeks to make tomorrow a better day than today for all South Africans”.

He added that it's a position that requires the respect of all South Africans and which must be earned.

Kathrada raised difficult issues saying he did not speak out about Nkandla, or when he felt insulted when the President was labelled a 'thief' and a 'rapist' or when he was accused of being under the influence of the Guptas.

But the struggle icon felt compelled to speak out when Nhlanhla Nene was fired as he believed Zuma's decision went against what was in the best interest of the movement.

He said his concern was amplified when it emerged that deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas confirmed that he'd been offered the Finance Minister's post by members of the Gupta family.

Kathrada ended the letter, stating: “There comes a time in the life of every nation when it must choose to submit or fight. Today I appeal to our president to submit to the will of the people and resign.”

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)