Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This morning my NEC colleagues and I spent our “67 minutes” with the Sisters Missionaries of Charity in Durban. The mission cares for 70 individuals who are physically or financially unable to take care of themselves. Sister Maria Jose and her fellow nuns welcomed the IFP, and led a prayer for Madiba in the mission’s Chapel.
It was touching to hear of the work the sisters are doing, and to see the warmth of the relationships they have formed with those in their care. Following the teachings of the Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the sisters serve without compensation.
Following our prayer service and the lighting of candles, I donned an overall and took up a roller to begin painting the walls and ceiling in the mission’s wards. This was the IFP’s gift of service to people who spend every minute of every day serving the needs of others.
At the same time, in other places, structures of the IFP were reaching out to express solidarity with fellow South Africans and support for Mandela Day. In Khayelitsha, our parliamentary staff and leaders visited the Bathandwa Day and Night Care Centre and hosted a “birthday party” for the children, with donations of food, care packages, electricity and toys. In Soweto, IFP members visited senior citizens, donating much-needed blankets.
In the midst of all this, my mind was filled with memories of Nelson Mandela and the many significant moments we have shared in our life-long friendship. As Madiba celebrated his 95th birthday, I thought of the early days when we were young men in Durban, eager to change our country and taste freedom.
In the fifties, Mandela had a law practice with Mr Oliver Tambo in Chancellor House, in downtown Johannesburg. I knew the dapper young Mandela as a friend of my father-in-law, Mr Zacharriah Mzila, and the Tambo family were friends of my sister, Princess Morgina Dotwana, and her husband, Mafu, who practiced medicine in Benoni.
I had met Tambo when he visited the University of Fort Hare, but our friendship developed over dinners in Mandela’s home, prepared with great warmth and kindness by Mandela’s wife Evelyn. Over dinner we often spoke about challenging the pass laws, which had been tightened when the National Party came to power in 1948. The idea of challenging the pass laws had inspired Tambo to study law in the first place.
Then, on 21 March 1960, a protest against pass laws in Sharpeville ended in tragedy. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 more were wounded as police opened fire on demonstrators. We were all in a state of shock. Six days later, Inkosi Albert Luthuli publically burned his pass. Protests were ignited across South Africa.
In response, the Apartheid Government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC and PAC. Tambo, then the Deputy President of the ANC, was sent by Inkosi Luthuli and the ANC Executive to spearhead the ANC’s mission in exile. Together with Adelaide and their children, he settled in London.
Soon thereafter, on my first trip abroad, in 1963, I visited Mrs Tambo at their home in Muswell Hill. I was en route to Toronto, Canada, where I would attend the Anglican Conference as a lay delegate, and I had a stop-over in London. Mrs Tambo phoned her husband in Lusaka and he flew to London to see me.
We spent hours in discussion, talking of family, friends and, of course, politics. Tambo repeatedly expressed concern that my visit would be reported to Pretoria by the active network of security agents in London. I laughed off his fears at the time. But as it turned out, he was quite right.
When my wife and I landed at Jan Smuts Airport, we went straight to Daveyton, the large black township near Benoni, to visit my sister and her husband. I was eager to share news of the Tambos and spend time with my family.
While we were there, Dr Dotwana and I attended a seminar of the Progressive Party. While we were driving back, our car was stopped at a roadblock in Germiston. We were ordered out of the car and searched. When it was discovered that I wasn’t carrying my pass book, I was immediately arrested.
Dr Dotwana tried to explain that I was a senior Inkosi in Zululand, but the policemen refused to listen and warned my brother-in-law not to talk to “the prisoner”. I was then taken in a squad car to the office of the Security Police in Germiston.
Dr Dotwana could only think to go home and fetch my passport. But it was quite a drive and by the time he got to the Security Police office well after midnight, friends like Mrs Helen Suzman had heard of my plight and intervened. Thus I was released, with the strict warning to carry my pass in future “to avoid inconvenience”.
Shortly thereafter, my passport was confiscated and it was nine years before the South African Government grudging issued me a temporary travel document again.
It seems I was not only to be told where I could and could not go within my own country, and when I could be in certain areas, but I was barred from leaving my country.
It was another 23 years before South Africa’s pass laws were finally repealed.
To us, the pass represented every injustice of the Apartheid system. It was a tangible sign that we were not equal citizens; not even equal human beings.
When the newly elected President Mandela appointed me as the first Minister of Home Affairs in a democratic South Africa, in 1994, I assumed responsibility for issuing the passports and identity documents of every South African. It was deeply satisfying, albeit immensely challenging, to expand the National Population Register and to see South Africans of every race, colour and background receive the same green ID book. Just as the pass represented our oppression, that ID represented our freedom.
Under my leadership, the Department of Home Affairs soon began investigating the possibility of an ID Smart Card that could store electronic biometric data.
Unfortunately, the road ahead for the ID Smart Card was long and arduous, and continued well after my tenure as Minister of Home Affairs. It became embroiled in controversy, with millions being spent without the project reaching a point of viability.
After all these years, it was wonderful to see Madiba’s daughter, Mrs Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa, symbolically receiving the first ID Smart Card on behalf of her father at the Union Buildings today. According to Minister Naledi Pandor, the first batch of Smart Cards will be issued to eminent persons, struggle veterans and aged citizens.
There is a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that a project I started more than ten years ago has finally reached fulfilment. How apt that it should coincide with Madiba’s 95th birthday, for he and his generation lived under the pass laws and we fought with every ounce of strength to challenge them.
As Madiba spent his 41st day in hospital today, we were delighted by news of his improving health. Whatever the outcome for Tata Madiba, his words will echo in our hearts: “The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.”
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP