Programme Director, Members of the Mthembu Family, Cabinet Colleagues,
Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Government representatives and officials, Media fraternity,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Our country is gripped in the deep throws of pain. Death keeps striking. In this instance it struck our Cabinet colleague, the Minister in the Presidency, Mr Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu whom we are gathered to pay homage to.
This is not a passing of an individual, but a premature departure of a representative of a great generation. The likes of Minister Mthembu, come to pass this way once.
In their wake, they leave us the gifts of liberty and freedom; in their commendable journey they leave us footprints of a well-fought struggle; and they take with them the well-deserved glories of reverence.
It falls upon a special generation to dream of liberation and to achieve it, and for such freedom to be cherished. Minister Mthembu belonged to this eminent generation of freedom fighters, whose contribution to our freedom and democracy deserves to be cherished for generations.
Minister Mthembu symbolises a generation of freedom fighters, who came of political age after June 1976, to leave us footprints of a well-fought struggle against apartheid and a well-trodden journey to build the foundations of democracy in South Africa.
As we gather to remember this outstanding son of the soil, it is not lost on us that in the recent past, Minister Mthembu survived an armed robbery where he almost lost his life; and he also overcame pain for the loss of his late mother and the traumatic loss of his eldest daughter.
Despite these personal adversities and tragic moments in his life, Minister Mthembu demonstrated amazing abilities to overcome pain and use his own experiences to inspire hope in us. This was a man who was always willing to meet anyone and everyone irrespective of their social standing. This was a man full of empathy and compassion, committed to the values of human solidarity and servant leadership.
Having overcome this and surviving many threats to his life as an activist during the fight against apartheid, tragically, today we lost him through this invisible enemy.
The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic we are faced with, is a tangible reminder that life knows no sense of occasion, just as it gives arbitrarily in birth, it takes indiscriminately in death, taking away the steady shoulders of giants. It shakes the foundations upon which we stand tall, and it exposes that we are but mere mortals.
As our country joins the world in the collective fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, we are assembled here and joined virtually by many of others to acknowledge an unrivalled representative of ethical leadership.
As a nation we have been unjustly robbed of a champion for social justice for the marginalised and destitute. For him, the public service leadership role meant that in everything we do, we must never stray from our relentless pursuit of changing the lives of poor and vulnerable communities for the better. Minister Mthembu’s commitment to freedom, human rights and democratic governance, is beyond reproach. He stood for the truth and nothing less.
Without a doubt, the untimely passing of Minister Mthembu is a loss not only to his family, but an unforeseen grief, shared by many from diverse political formations and ideological orientations more especially those who admired his humanity.
It is not surprising to find that leaders from different sectors of society and in the media fraternity, stand undivided in commending the personal and professional attributes of Minister Jackson Mthembu.
To them, Minister Mthembu was an exceptional bridge-builder and a model of selfless public service to the people. In him and through his deeds, he personified what Martin Luther King Jr., said about effective leadership:
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus”.
Fortunately, this sage counsel was embraced by Minister Mthembu from his early days as a student activist, when he was a labour representative and in various guises as the spokesperson of the governing party. He also served in the provincial executive council of Mpumalanga provincial government, where personally I had a privilege to serve alongside him.
When he was the Chief Whip of the governing party in the National Assembly, his consensus-moulding attributes shone for all to see and learn from, across the political divide. His inclusive and collaborative approach to resolving issues facing the nation defined his core attributes as a leader who played a critical role in shaping our democracy.
He understood that the diversity of views and ideological differences should not engender hatred and anger. Instead, debates and differences are essential ingredients of a strong democratic culture that always seeks to find common ground, unity and a shared sense patriotism and nationhood.
More recently, in the sixth administration led by President Ramaphosa, his empowering attributes guided his exercise of executive authority in overseeing a diverse portfolio of communication related entities.
Minister Mthembu was a fitting person to lead these entities, for his life has always been about giving meaning and effect to basic rights like access to information by all, media freedom for all, and freedom of expression without censure.
As we continue in our efforts of building a united and prosperous nation, we celebrate the life and times of this gentle giant, a decent and upright leader who saw the occupation of public office not as vehicle for the pursuit of selfish interests; but for the advancement of public good, transformation of society, transparency of the state and democratic governance.
Few would disagree that Minister Mthembu, serves as a role model to his colleagues and to the young of our nation. To him, governing instead of ruling meant implementing government’s priorities in a manner that maintains the integrity of the state, whilst seeking to eliminate cynicism towards it.
As a Minister in the Presidency, he inspired all staff irrespective of rank and he respected them equally. He actively worked with administrative leadership in the institution as we sought to build an agile, responsive and fit for purpose Presidency that provides leadership at the apex of government, in order to tackle critical issues facing our country.
Minister Mthembu was always preoccupied by realising the ideal of a capable and developmental state. This is important presently in fighting the second surge of Covid-19 cases where the strength of our healthcare system is being tested.
We must all come together and place our shoulders to the wheel in the continued fight of preventing human mortality and morbidity, and play our part in curbing further spread of the virus, as well as support efforts to find scientific solutions to the current crisis.
As we pay tribute to Minister Mthembu, we should leverage on the lessons learnt in 2020, when, to some extent, we managed to stem the first surge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One abiding lesson we take with us in 2021, is that working in silos as various government departments and entities compromises our ability to implement an existential fight to save lives and livelihoods. In his role as the Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu played a critical leadership role in enhancing the coordination and integration of government efforts in the fight against the ravaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including fostering partnerships with government’s social partners.
Therefore, in honouring his life, it is incumbent upon all of us, from labour, business, academia, civil society, inter-faith and traditional institutions to come together in the fight to save lives and livelihoods, and finally defeat the pandemic.
As we closed the year in December last year, Minister Mthembu was instrumental in our engagements with military veterans from all formations as we sought to improve their well-being. On the day of his passing, we were scheduled to meet with and provide feedback to the President on these engagements.
So, Minister Mthembu passed on in the line of duty.
We therefore make use of this platform in his memory, to recognise Minister Mthembu’s incomparable talents in advancing the course of freedom and democracy.
He put his talents to great use in ensuring that as government, we build a coherent machinery that is able to translate people’s aspirations into tangible programmes, and to simplify complex policy propositions in a manner that people would understand and relate to, on how such would improve their lives.
Ending the spread of this virus and defeating this virus, would be a befitting tribute to Minister Mthembu. He left us with hope that this is possible, when on 11th January this year he said, “As a people we must overcome Covid-19”.
May the soul and spirit of Minister Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu rest in eternal peace,and may his exemplary actions live with us forever. To his family, especially his dear wife Thembi and the children, we extend our deepest condolences. Your loss is a loss to the country and humanity.
Source: The Presidency Republic of South Africa