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“Mthembu was a champion for social justice”


JACKSON Mthembu, the South African cabinet minister who died of COVID-19 complications was a champion for social justice for the marginalised and destitute, Deputy President David Mabuza has said.

In a tribute to Mthembu at a memorial service held today, Mabuza said the minister, who was buried yesterday, was committed to freedom, human rights and democratic governance, beyond reproach.

“ 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’.”

 Mabuza said South Africans should celebrate the life and times of a gentle giant, a decent and upright leader who saw the occupation of public office not as a 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 the 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.

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“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.”

Politicians, senior civil servants, communicators and stakeholders in the media industry also paid warm tributes to Mthembu and applauded him for his dedication to clean government, service delivery and for being virulently against corruption.

Yesterday, hundreds of ANC supporters lined the streets of Embalenhle township yesterday, singing, dancing and waving goodbye to a man who was born there and went on to be a member of cabinet and the ANC national executive committee.

At the funeral service, attended by 50 people in line with COVID-19 protocols, SA president Cyril Ramaphosa led tributes from ANC officials, the Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise and family members.

Ramaphosa said Mthembu was the public face of our government, communicating its policies and its decisions.

He said in Mthembu, who he often referred to with his clan name Mvelase, he has lost not just a dependable colleague and a comrade.

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 “I have lost a dear friend, and it is a loss I feel most keenly. Minister Mthembu had many virtues that I observed over the many years of the friendship we shared. He was generous in spirit and had a charming personality. He had the endearing ability to lift my mood and fortify my resolve in even the most difficult situations.  He had a sense of humour that was often most irreverent.  He laughed – with his entire body – about things that he probably shouldn’t have, just as he cared deeply about everything that he should. He was principled and a man of great courage, in times of both calm and difficulty. He was an honest man who never hesitated to speak up for what he believed to be right, no matter the cost. 


“His life was full of meaning and accomplishment in the way he dedicated himself to serve the people of our country.

“I will remember him for his kindness, his professional approach, but above all for his ever-present sense of calm, even in a crisis or when we would be under extreme pressure. 

He was a voice of reason, a voice of wisdom, which he exemplified in the advice he gave me as a Minister in the Presidency. Not a single day would go past without him calling me for some matter or other. At times he would call just to say, “How are you, Mr President?”.

He was faithful and loyal.”

Ramaphosa said since the outbreak of COVID-19, Mthembu carried the government’s message of compassion, solidarity and unity.

Mthembu, the president added, was at the forefront of SA’s effort to contain the pandemic that has claimed close to 40 000 and infected over 1.3-million South Africans.

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The President said: “When we found ourselves close to despair, as a people and a nation, he offered hope. When our nation’s spirits were down and flagging, he lifted them up. He brought clarity, certainty and the utmost professionalism to every task he was assigned. He has left a huge void in our government, in the movement to which he dedicated his life and in the country of which he was such a proud citizen.

“Mvelase was among those infinitely rare individuals in our politically-charged society.  He was admired and respected across party lines.  It has been profoundly touching to witness how the news of Jackson Mthembu’s passing stilled the clatter and bickering that has consumed us in recent times and united us in our sorrow.  One dare hope that the sentiment that has been displayed at Jackson Mthembu’s passing is a reminder that we have far more in common than we may choose to believe, whether as members of society or as political parties. After all, we all want one thing: what is best for our country. 

“We have lost a man who was able to transcend political differences, and to reach out and forge alliances in pursuit of a common goal. We need more men and women like him, who understand and appreciate that we are all heading in the same direction, and that the onward march to a better South Africa is so much easier if we work together. He was a man who was greatly respected and loved.”

By The African Mirror