On Thursday 6 April, a memorial service was held for struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada at St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town. One of the speakers was Fasiha Hassan, one of the leaders of the 2015 #FeesMustFall protests at Wits University. Hassan emphasised Uncle Kathy’s support for the FeesMustFall movement and strongly criticised the ruling party for allowing factional battles to impact the working classes. Read the transcript of her speech below.
Amandla, awethu, a slogan and phrase that has rung through the halls of Southern African history as a symbol of power. It is the very same ‘Amandla’ spoken by the likes of Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko, Lilian Ngoyi, Raheema Moosa, Robert Sobukwe, and many other struggle heroes. We travel the same road that Steven Bantu Biko, Chris Hani, Fatima Meer, and Solomon Mahlangu, who today marks the 38 years of your hanging. Indeed your blood is nourishing the tree that is bearing the fruits of freedom.
But this road that we walk is an old road. It has its place in our history books and I stand in front of you a 23 year-old Muslim woman of colour, a so called ‘born free’. The very first generation born just a few months shy of the first democratic election of 1994. I am the living product of the struggles of Ahmed Kathrada and the likes.
Uncle Kathy was the living embodiment of what it meant to challenge an oppressive system. He was a member of the Young Communist League at the age of 12 or 13, and even at that young age he knew that something was wrong. He knew that the status quo was something that needed to be challenged. Little did he know at that young age, that the decision he made would alter not just his own life, but really the history of the world. And that is what brings me to the fateful day of October 14th 2015, when myself and others woke up in the early hours of the morning, and we sat down on the ground with an unfaltering conviction.
We didn’t know that fateful morning would change the course of history, or that we would spark debate and reignite the fighting spirit of young people. When we sat down on those tar roads, all we could think about was the increment, and what it would mean for the working class, and for the black child. We were verbally abused, physically assaulted, threatened, almost driven over. In many cases some people were. But we remained steadfast. And just like the anti-apartheid struggle, it began with a small group of people in the early hours of one morning, but by midday of the same day, we had managed to mobilise hundreds of students, and in the upcoming days – thousands more.
We showed the country, and indeed the world, the power of a mobilised youth to shake the core of an unjust system. We were once called that lost generation, a group of young apathetic people without a vision. But we changed that. We reignited the flame that lay dormant within us, and we allowed the spirits of Solomon Mahlangu, Lilian Ngoyi, Steve Biko, and now the spirit of Ahmed Kathrada to flow through us, to give us strength, and to give us the courage.
Uncle Kathy has always had an affinity for young people, and then we made the call to civil society to join us in the fight for free, quality, decolonised education, he was one of the people who joined us. And at a time when it was unpopular to do so. At a time where we were called hooligans, troublemakers, we were even called monkeys. And it was in those times that Uncle Kathy took the decision and stood up with us. There were many times where he joined us at Solomon Mahlangu house, and even at the Union Buildings on the 23rd of October, between the tear gas and the rubber bullets. And I remember how he would hold my hand, his hands were always very very warm, unlike mine. And I would always expect him to scold me at the various militant things we had said or done that day. But instead he spoke to me in the softest and most humble of voices. And in so doing, being able to get through a space no one else was able to do.
But he was there to listen. Not five months ago he was with us in Solomon House, and he was a fighter until the very end, even in death. At his funeral, myself and many other women were afforded the right to perform the janaazah salaah, which is the burial prayers, many of which had been excluded to women through the ages. Even in death Uncle Kathy was able to advocate for a non-sexist, non-patriarchal society. And while we may have sometimes disagreed, Uncle Kathy remained true to the cause. He understood our anger and our desperation for change; he remembered what it was like to be young, and to be radical.
And so Uncle Kathy, wherever you may be, thank you not just for the advice and the courage, and the guidance. Thank you for your courage for having stood up to the disgusting monster of apartheid and colonialism. But also for your courage to having stood up to your own people who have tarnished our hard earned democracy. In many ways, it is easier to fight your own enemy than it is to fight your ally. Thank you for never turning your back on us and on your children.
But I also cannot stand here in front of you without speaking about the current context of the country and the difficulties we face. We are indeed at an epoch as this country. And the bitter truth of the matter is that we failed our people long ago. We became a left-talking, but right walking ruling party.
We failed our people in our growing inability to provide the most basic of services. We allowed factionalism, nepotism, and an attempt to accumulate as many resources as possible to cloud our vision of providing a materially different life for the poor. We have lost sight and we have forgotten what we have fought for.
But let me be very very clear. I’m not here to advocate for one side or another. I am here to tell you, and to tell the country that we as young people are fed up. We are done being pulled into your factional battles and your wars. We have no interest in being used as tools to fight your battles. By the time you are done there will be no ANC to fight over. By the time you hand over to us, we will be mere observers in the gallery of Parliament, in the opposition benches trying to rebuild of the ashes that you left behind. And this is not what people want to hear, but it is the truth. This fight serves only to harm the poor working class and who suffers most from a cabinet reshuffle and the economy downgrade? The poor working class.
How can it be that the fight for free education is considered a factional one, when we are advocating for opening up access to education? I am tired of hearing that it is a factional battle.
Those members of society who are marching on the Union Buildings tomorrow and on other days, I urge you to be more consistent. Where was the outrage when we were shot? Where was the outrage at Marikana? Where was the outrage at Esidimeni? Because one march is not going to save South Africa. One march is not going to save us in the current difficulty we are in, so please remember every single day that this fight to save our country begins with us in our everyday lives.
And in closing, Uncle Kathy, you have fought tirelessly for the freedom of our country, and for the soul of the African National Congress. We take the baton you have handed to us, and we will continue the fight. Ours is to restore the dignity of the black child. Amandla!