Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
It falls to a chosen few – and only a few – to capture the truth of their times in simple, uncluttered, but unforgettable terms. The reaction to the death of Senator Ted Kennedy not just across that arsenal of democracy called America, but the entire world provides testimony to the fact that he was one such man. He wore the golden, but tragic, mantle of the Kennedy legacy with élan and grace to the end.
My motion to parliament yesterday, I hope, contained Kennedy’s simple truths:
I move without notice that the House notes with sadness that Senator Ted Kennedy has passed away –
(1) notes Senator Kennedy, who many in this House were proud to call a friend, cared deeply for this country and took up the liberation cause with aplomb and distinction in the American corridors of power and across the free world;
(2) further notes that Senator Kennedy gave expression to the liberal democratic credo, which transcends any political party, that all humans are made in the image of God, and that a ‘tolerance of others’, a ‘generosity of spirit’ and a ‘love of freedom’ are the cornerstones of the civilized society;
(3) recognises that because he knew, to borrow the elegant words of his late brother President John F. Kennedy, ‘the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit’, he gave people in South Africa, as well as the people of the United States, and many others across the world, strength with which to overcome despair; and
(4) holds true that as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven’s morning broke, Senator Kennedy has left us a legacy of social justice to guide us as we continue to toil in the twilight.
When I saw him on television, just two weeks ago, receiving, with our own Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the Medal of Freedom award from President Barack Obama, I thought that he might be beating his cancer. If anyone could, he could. Mortal illness had clearly not dimmed Kennedy’s star.
In South Africa we knew him as a good friend, too. But naturally it was his elder brother Robert who came here first in July 1966. The two brothers shared the same boyish zest for life, sparkling humour and that inimitable dry Boston penchant for straight-talking. These were clearly Kennedy traits because when, years later, Jackie Kennedy’s partner Maurice Templesman brought ‘John John’ (JFK’s and Jackie’s son) to meet me in Ulundi, I found him just the same.
Robert and I quickly became friends and we remained so until his tragic death two years later. In a Durban dinner party for Robert were Archbishop Denis Hurley, Dr AE Lazarus, Dr Edgar Brookes, Alan Paton, Knowledge Guzana, Dr EG Malherbe, Leo Boyd, the American counsel and his wife, Mr and Mrs WD Toomey and myself. During dinner, Alan turned to Robert and deadpanned: ‘Four of us here are passportless citizens’ (Lazarus, Paton, Guzana and me).
I met Ted Kennedy for the first time when I was in the States in 1971.
The senator, unlike his liberal counterparts here, supported sanctions. He told me matter-of-factly that the South African sugar quota to America had only been saved by two votes. I can be as plain-speaking as an Irish Bostonian, too. I replied ‘Oh, you nearly did wonders, but please in future don’t do it, because it is going to harm us.’
Fifteen years later, in January 1985, I again met with the Senator in South Africa. Times had changed. In the intervening years, his career had been blighted by the Chappaquiddick tragedy and the vilification campaign against me was in full swing. The Senator could not make up his mind whether he should meet with me privately or publicly, if at all. A meeting was agreed at the Royal Hotel in Durban.
I spoke to Kennedy of my frustration at President PW Botha’s intransigent refusal to take negotiations with blacks further and why, in any case, serious negotiations were impossible whilst so many black leaders, including Mr Nelson Mandela, were still in prison. I also told him that I believed that the siren calls for disinvestment were ‘madness’.
Anyway, after the meeting, I asked Kennedy to exit with me through the main door of the hotel. There, we were greeted by hundreds of Inkatha Youth League members carrying placards against sanctions. A friend of mine, who accompanied Kennedy to the airport, told me afterwards that the Senator called me ‘that son of a bitch’ three times en route. I could only laugh.
As South Africans, we, perhaps, more than any nation, will appreciate how Kennedy became the Democrat party’s leading champion of liberalism focusing his energies on health care, education, civil rights and immigration. As Obama said in his tribute yesterday: ‘For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts’.
I would also add my observation that in the year that he was a viable candidate for President, his liberalism was not a viable philosophy.
So it can be said that in the year of his passing, his political vision has come to pass in the Age of Obama. In that sense, the Kennedy inheritance has been secured for this and future generations.
Kennedy also demonstrated to us the merits of authentic bipartisanship and the value of friendship across party lines.
Hamba Khale Senator Kennedy!
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 555-7144.