It’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a decent funeral myself from time to time. We all do, I imagine. It’s a place to catch up with old friends (aside from one), see how others have aged (normally not so well) and note with exaggerated horror the absenteeism.
This is particularly true if the departed was deep into her nineties and had been removed from society years prior as a result of her acerbic tongue and disdain for personal hygiene – much like Prince Philip has been (personal hygiene aside).
And if the weather is pleasant, well all the better.
In South Africa, as in many parts of the world, funerals have also become a place where political statements are made, where people are motivated and where the gathering is used as an opportunity to make speeches and set out party-political agendas.
The funeral and memorial services for the late Ahmed Kathrada is a case in point. The death of the ANC stalwart was used as a spring board for discussion and for criticism of current ANC behaviour and the state of the party. A letter written by Kathrada was read out and debated at length. Standing ovations abounded and the funeral became about more than the death of the man, but also about his relevance in life.
And that’s all good and well when the life of the deceased was dedicated to the very subjects being addressed.
But when 18 children killed in a horrific road accident are buried one would think that there would be some measure of sympathy towards the families and that the politics would be left the hell alone. Respect and empathy for the parents who are all living all of our biggest nightmare should be assumed and one would think (and expect) that unless you are there to convey sympathy to the families and to the children being buried, then you should rather stay away. Far away.
And yet Baleke Mbete didn’t. She instead took the opportunity to lecture the grieved on a lesson she felt important to convey. That “children” should not talk about their families in the streets. The message of course was her very favourite one (she only has a few), and that is that it is all very well for the ANC to criticise itself behind closed doors, but to do so in public is not tolerable. This is pretty much the summary of her political career.
One can only but imagine what went through the minds of the grieving parents when she delivered this message. Its relevance was non-existent to them and the metaphor appalling, considering these parents no longer had the child to whom they could convey the message. One could only hope that they were so numbed by the pain and the horror that they were experiencing that her insensitivity washed over them.
That she chose to deliver this “wisdom” at the funeral is very significant. So pathological is the ANC’s need to not be challenged by their own, that all perspective is lost when they are. But we know that. We have seen it and witnessed it and watched how they react when it occurs.
What it further underscores, however, is perhaps more concerning. To the ANC elite, the rest of the country remain children. Incapable of thought and opinion. The arrogance is displayed at every opportunity and it is clear that there is zero accountability within the ANC elite. Instead of discussing the issues that have caused the mess within the party, instead of taking any form of responsibility, the ANC rather chooses to discuss the breach of protocol when those inside the party speak outside it.
It is very clearly time for the ANC to grow up. Something that the children killed on the roads will tragically not be able to do.
The irony is that this very column does exactly what Mbete is accused of. It opportunistically utilises the funeral of 18 children to make a political statement. But as we would say in the in the playground, they started it.
– Howard Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.
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