Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at Exhumation, Repatriation and Reburial of Moses Kotane and JB Marks media briefing, Market Theatre

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23 Feb 2015

Programme Director

Distinguished Guests,

Members of Media,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

They fought for Democray & Freedom

As we grow into a mature democracy that turns 21 in April this year, the memory and legacy of our stalwarts, Moses Kotane and JB Marks remain pivotal to telling our own stories and celebrating our heroes.

You will agree with me that we would not be enjoying democracy and freedom today without the selflessness and principled commitment of these two legends and other unsung heroes and heroines of their generation.

We are gathered here today to unveil plans to exhume their bodies and repatriate them back into the country of their birth to rebury them in the African soil that they belong to.

This historic event takes place as we come to the end of the celebrations of our 20th anniversary of democracy and freedom. They were our heroes who played a pivotal role in the fight for this democracy and freedom.

We believe that the memory and legacy of these two struggle icons continues to sharply define the ideals and aspirations of the society we want to be: just, equal and prosperous. We believe that they will always remain inspirational figures whose stories have the power to remind us of where we come from. Thus they have the potential to bring us together from our different background, races, classes and cultures to express and celebrate our unity in diversity.

They fought for justice and equality. Their selfless contribution is what has taken this country forward. They were pioneers of nation building and social cohesion.

Most importantly, it is important to remember that they died in foreign lands. But this is what made them international freedom fighters. Both Kotane and Marks were in the forefront of popularizing our struggle to people from corners of the world.

They championed the struggle for democracy in this country, in the African continent and, most importantly, in Europe, especially the former USSR now known as Russia. Russia was a country that gave our struggle unconditional support.

The story of Kotane, Marks and the generation they represent captures and reflects how courageous men and women stood up for moral principles in the face of our shameful history that was characterized by conflicted divisive colonial and racist past.

These two men, at a great personal cost to themselves and their families, chose to fight for freedom and democracy.

They were agents of the society that they wanted to see in their lifetime. Unfortunately, they both died in the 1970s just when the struggle reached a point of no return.

But they will always be remembered as heroes of our liberation struggle who were instruments of national unity, peace and bringing our diverse people together to build one human family in one country. This is what we celebrate about them! They fought for the freedom and democracy for all South Africans, irrespective of their race or background.

In fact, we can look back at the beginning of the 20th Century – that is, the 1930s, 40s and 50s – as the three decades where they consolidated the foundation for the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society that we celebrate and live in today.                                       

We are proud to say the struggle for democracy and freedom inspired and attracted men of this calibre. These two legends were prophetic voices, pioneers and visionaries who have been at the forefront of articulating the aspirations and hopes for a better world where we can all live together as brothers and sisters in one united country.

As we leave for Russia, today, we salute them for their self-sacrifice, passion and commitment to nourish the hopes and aspirations of the formerly oppressed of this nation. These are heroes and legends that have helped to take this country forward.

When we bring them back as heroes of the struggle, as freedom fighters who fought for all in this country to live in a truly liberated society, we are looking forward to the civil society and media, especially, joining us as equal partners to put their names in everybody’s lips.

It is a serious indictment that our children do not know the men and women who brought about democracy and freedom. We need to work together to tell the story of where we come from and celebrate our heroes.

There is no doubt that we need to deepen understanding and appreciation for their contribution and role. Both Kotane and Marks represent a generation of perhaps unsung and unknown heroes who played a pivotal role in the intellectual development of our society and contributed to national discourse to define our ideals.

As we prepare to mark and celebrate the 21st anniversary of Human Rights month during March, we believe that those of us who live here, today, are the heirs to what these heroes fought for. We need to rededicate ourselves to the fight against economic injustice and social inequality in our society.

Above all, we believe that both Kotane and Marks played a pivotal role in the promotion of what, today, are our constitutional values, redefining a common over-arching national identity, promoting the transformation agenda to restore the dignity of Africans and inspire confidence, pride and hope for a brighter future for all our people in the country and continent.

They did what they did to inspire active citizenry and leadership that will see the people take full responsibility to move the country forward. They fought for justice and equality.

In fact, none were more articulate and possessed more credibility and integrity to inspire and give us the blue print to define our 2030 Vision as defined and articulated in the National Development Plan.

The last 20 years of democracy and freedom are a significant milestone in our journey as a people. We know the men and women who sacrificed their all to get us to where we are.

It is time to tell their stories as part of the celebration of what we, the living, enjoy today. Both Kotane and Marks are representatives of countless unsung heroes and heroines of our struggle. They fought for democracy and freedom for all who belong in this country.

As we leave for Russia today, we move forward with pride self-love, care and commitment as Africans to ensure that our story of fighting for justice and equality - as epitomized by these two icons, Kotane and Marks - continues to unfold to help us build an active citizenry for an inclusive society.

But it is none but ourselves who have to create the just and equal society that we wish to live in.

The President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma has tasked us as the Department of Arts & Culture to lead and coordinate the repatriation and reburial of these two legends. Over the last few months we have engaged with Russia, especially the City of Moscow where Kotane and Marks are buried in the Novodevichy cemetery.

We have been in consultation with their families and some of them will be part of the delegation that will speak about these two legends and thank the people of Russia for everything they have done for these two in life and in death.

We are proud to say Russia together with us is a member of BRICKS and we have a cooperation programme that, amongst others, promotes mutual understanding through Cultural Seasons.

We have been working closely with the South African Mission in Moscow to host a handover ceremony for the remains of Kotane and Marks at the embassy.

We will host a wreath laying ceremony, a memorial service and deliver a lecture to share our perspective and appreciation of the meaning of these legends.

We shall return with the remains of these two stalwarts to African soil on 2nd March. There will be a special reception to welcome back at the Waterkloof Air Force base to which you are all invited.

I take it that you all know that the reburial of the remains of Kotane and Marks will take place in Pella and Ventersdorp in the North West on 14 March and 22 March, respectively. The Presidency has declared the funerals of these two stalwarts as special official funerals.

They fought for democracy and freedom for all the people of this beautiful country. We are the heirs of their self-sacrifice and principled commitment to justice and freedom. Their memory and legacy lives in us.