Oration by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe during the memorial service of the late Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang
21 Dec 2009
Let me pass my heartfelt condolences and indeed those of the South African government to Comrade Mendi Msimang, his family as well as the Mali and Tshabalala families at large.
Comrade Mendi you have lost a loving wife, a friend and a comrade to the end.
As her family, you would know the dilemmas of having a struggle family torn by the vicissitudes of exile life with no mother figure as a reference point, and what it means to lose the same mother just as you were settling back into a stable family life.
Yet despite all this, I am sure Comrade Mendi, you would personally appreciate the emotional fulfilment of a family whose life is driven by higher ideals, bonded by the need to strive for freedom, non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and justice. At the same time, all of us who consider the African National Congress (ANC) our home would equally feel the sharpness of pain suffered by those who have lost a mother and a sister for whom there can never be any replacement.
In this connection, there can be no biography of Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang outside the historical context of the ANC, just as the history of the ANC would be inadequate without the illustrious role of this dedicated revolutionary. Consequently, all of us South Africans have lost a comrade and a cadre who had put the rest of her adult life to the service of humanity. With this in mind, I speak with no hyperbole when I say that Sis’ Manto’s (as all of us fondly called her) death marks the end of a chapter in the history of the struggle.
By now we would have all noted that those who represented the flame of freedom during the darkest period of our struggle are gradually phasing out of our lives, taking with them the consciousness of an era. Sis’ Manto has thus joined the legion of struggle icons, such as Florence Mophosho, Kate Molale, Alfred Nzo, Joe Modise and Joe Nhlanhla among others, whose lives defined an era and helped us achieve freedom. In a way those who are discerning among us will notice with concern the challenge left behind.
This is the challenge of seamlessly maintaining this coherent historical consciousness so that there is no disconnection between the vision that drove Sis’ Manto’s generation and the challenges facing the present generation. We can only uphold the legacy of our past through meeting the challenges of the present, as the only way to honour the memory of our forebears. Straddling numerous epochs in the evolution of our society, Sis’ Manto has lived up to this historical imperative.
Accordingly, her present detractors would do well to go back in time and get to learn the remarkable sacrifices she has made, including the creation of freedom of speech in our country, so that, without irony, such detraction could be acutely expressed without fear of any official repercussions. From her early age as a student activist, to her exile years, to the democratic breakthrough of 1990, no ANC assigned task was ever too forbidding for her to do.
For ever keen to pull her weight in whatever effort, she was not only eager to do her bid but always sought to perform her duties with excellence. This is the Sis’ Manto we have grown to know, to love and will always be in our memory.
Programme director, looked at in its entirety, Dr Tshabalala-Msimang’s life reflects the ever deepening commitment at every point to make her contribution to the betterment of human condition. As a person she, like the rest of us, had strengths and weaknesses which inevitably manifested themselves in the hard slog of our daily life. Yet what counts the most at the end of it all is to what extent we can leverage our strengths in the pursuit of lofty objectives and inversely, how ably we can manage our weaknesses which are but the real elements of our composite whole as human beings.
I would submit that the history of this unfased woman reveals a mind strongly devoted to the happiness of all. Early in her life she found a reliable home for the realisation of this vision of human happiness through the African National Congress. It was as a cadre of this historic movement that she participated as follows:
* Head of Health Training programme for national liberation movements;
Organisation of African Unity and United Nations Development programme at Morogoro in Tanzania (1976 to 1979)
* Deputy Secretary in charge of human resource development and deployment for the African National Congress, Department of Health, Tanzania and Zambia (1979 to 1990)
* Convenor of the first International Conference on Health and Apartheid under the auspices of World Health Organisation (WHO) (1980).
From her early age when she opened up her eyes and saw all around her, the blanketing cloud of apartheid manifested in rampant poverty, social discrimination, political oppression and economic exploitation Comrade Manto decided to fight for liberation. She also realised that the best way to meet the oppressor on equal terms is to arm her with education, and so it was that she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, in 1961. Throughout her life she would go on to earn a string of degrees in medical science, including:
* Medical Degree from First Leningrad Medical Institute in Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) (1969)
* Diploma in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from University of Dar es Salaam Medical School in Tanzania (1972)
* Masters degree in Public Health from University of Antwerp, Belgium (1980).
All these qualifications, amidst the taxing conditions of struggle and exile, testify to a well rounded perspective by Sis’ Manto to emerge triumphant in the face of structured oppression. This passion for education is part of her legacy that we should not only cherish but do our best to emulate. In the face of the present skills shortage in our country, it is encouraging to see the combination of related skills, from medical degree, which was augmented with specialisation in the chosen field, to administration at the highest level.
Programme director, in her last lap of the struggle for a better South Africa, Sis’ Manto was one of the crops of cadres who laid down the foundations of our democratic state since 1991. In pursuit of this huge task she has had multiple roles, many of which ran concurrently. Among others, she was the Deputy Minister of Justice of the Republic South Africa between 1996 and 1999. She expended vast experience on contributing to the fight against HIV and AIDS.
During the course of her life, numerous accusations were levelled against her.
Fallible as she was true to human form, we should just be careful not to make her out to be the person she was not. On the balance of evidence, dispassionate observers would conclude that her profound efforts and initiatives in the fight against the AIDS pandemic far outstrip whatever foible she had. On this score, she successfully coordinated the following tasks:
* the establishment of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) (2002)
* the development of the national strategic plan on HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or tuberculosis (TB) plan on the management care and treatment of HIV nad AIDS and STDs (2002 to 2005)
* the review of comprehensive plan of management, care support and treatment of HIV and AIDS and STDs (2007 to 2011)
* the operational plan for comprehensive the HIV and AIDS management, treatment care and support adopted 2003 November and implemented 2004 April, ended March 2009
* the review of national strategic plan 2000 to 2005 conducted in July and August 2006
* the review of SANAC 2002 and subsequent restructuring April 2006
* the midterm review of comprehensive plan conducted in 2006/07.
Beyond this demonstrable commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS, she has openly embraced the concept of gender empowerment and lived up to that objective. She has, among others, dedicated her profession to the improvement of the lives of women and girl children, especially those from the disadvantaged background. This stands out as one of her passions that defined her health ministry.
Programme director; let us take this moment to celebrate the life of our comrade, sister and friend: Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Let us be grateful she was born in our time and, sharing our contemporary anxieties, contributed to our betterment of all of us. Let us admire her strength of character, her vision, and her determination to live up to that vision.
To those who blame her for all manner of omissions and commissions, for blunders and blusters we say: “do so well aware that she tried. She did try”. She has done her part as only human beings can, may her soul rest in peace.
Issued by: The Presidency
21 December 2009
Source: The Presidency (http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/)
Issued by: The Presidency
21 Dec 2009
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