Address by Minister Mthethwa at Nat Nakasa welcome ceremony and media briefing; King Shaka Airport, Durban

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19 Aug 2014

Today marks the culmination of a journey that began 50 years ago when Nat Nakasa left his motherland on an exit permit leaving him to be a stateless person. He later described himself as a “Native of Nowhere”. We are proud to say we have restored his dignity and given him back his citizenship. This occasion is the fulfilment of his dream for a free society where every man will be treated with respect and dignity. It also brings closure and healing to the family.

The Grave Site Visit

Upon landing at the JFK Airport in New York last Wednesday, we immediately headed to Ferncliff cemetery for the family to see and witness the gravesite where this great son of the soil has been laid to rest for tha last 49 years. This was a very poignant moment for our delegation, especially the family who were retracing some of the steps of Nakasa’s journey in America.

You would recall that Nakasa was buried near Malcom X’s grave. The two had met first in Africa and became friends. Ultimately they died within months of each other in 1965. The same cemetery is the final resting place of American novelist, James Baldwin.

The Exhumation

Two days later on Friday 15 August, the funeral parlour conducted the sacred act of extracting Nakasa’s remains from the American soil. At a special private ceremony held at a funeral parlour the family was accorded the priviledge to view the remains. I was informed by the family that Nat Nakasa’s remains were in relative good condition. They decided not to remove the soil from the bones, thus symbolically keeping the bond that Nakasa had with the people of America and the rest of the world.

The Memorial Service in the US

A moving memorial service to pay tribute to this legendary journalist and writer was held at Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York. It was a sad and yet jouyous occasion that saw expatriates, family, friends and other community members from across the US united in prayer, song and dance to celebrate Nakasa’s life and contribution to efforts to create a better world. We wish to express our thankfulness to all those who attended this historic event.

Reflection on Nat Nakasa

The last few days offered us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and impact of Nat Nakasa’s life. This is a life that has touched many people in a variety of ways. There is no doubt in our mind that Nakasa was a complex figure, an articulate journalist and a highly gifted writer. In fact he was a man who defined his time though his lived experiences and writings.

Nat Nakasa Programme

Today Nakasa returns to a South Africa that is remarkably different from the one that he left fifty years ago. He would be pleased to know that this year we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the freedom that he fought for so courageously.

We are repatriating Nakasa’s body and spirit back to his ancestral land just over a month after the passing away of his dear friend, colleague and fellow writer, Nadine Gordimer. Gordimer was the last person to see him off at the then Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. Nakasa died on the 14 July 1965. Gordimer died on the 13 July 2014.

Today marks the reunification of Nat Nakasa with his people. We are proud to say to the world Nat Nakasa has returned to his ancestral land not as a native of nowhere, but as a true South African patriot, an African, and as a citizen of the world.

As part of celebrating Nakasa’s legacy, we are running an essay competition in collaboration with Drum magazine where aspirant journalists will discuss the significance of this event. The City of eThekwini is currently running an exhibition that captures Nakasa’s life at the Oral History Museum in Durban. The exhibition will be running until end of the year. On the week preceding the reburial, we will run a number of programmes, including debate competitions, panel discussions and public lectures.

We will continue working closely with the province as we prepare for Nakasa’s reburial on 13 September. Nakasa will be accorded a reburial ceremony befitting an icon of his stature. The President of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Jacob Zuma, will preside over the ceremony.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the repatriation of Nakasa is a positive testament to nation building and social cohesion that he wrote about. This is an important victory for everyone who has supported the struggle for democracy and freedom in South Africa. This is also a vital step in redefining our purpose and fostering positive change in society.

Thank you.