Motion Of Condolences On The Passing Of
The Honourable Joseph Gaobakwe Matthews
 by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

   

 

National Assembly : 26 August 2010

 

Honourable Speaker;
Honourable President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma;
Honourable  Deputy President, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe;
the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor;
Honourable Members.

 

When a man passes away at a great age, the sense of injustice that often accompanies death is less acute. Man is allotted three score and ten years as a life span and the ones who are blessed, like myself and Joseph Gaobakwe Matthews, to live past this measure, are believed to have led a full life.

 

Surely there is nothing more an octogenarian can still long to do. Surely regrets are far behind him. But today, as I offer my message of condolences on the passing of one of South Africa's greatest sons, I do feel regret.

 

I regret that I have been robbed of the opportunity to share another good conversation with my beloved friend, Joe. I regret that his sharp mind, a veritable library of knowledge, will no longer challenge mine as we explore ideas, theories, philosophies and dreams. I regret that his warmth and gentle good humour will no longer brighten my days. And I regret that South Africa had merely a lifetime of Joe Matthews, because more would certainly have enriched us. Even to the end of his days, Joe's mind remained brilliant.

 

I know I am not alone in longing for more time with Joe Matthews. His daughter, the Honourable Minister Naledi Pandor, has suffered a terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, and with her family, as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I am grateful to the Honourable Minister for her kindness in keeping me informed of her father's brief illness and for contacting me, even from the hospital, when he passed into eternity. Joe was blessed to have such a daughter, who would consider his friends in the midst of her own suffering.

 

There are many who will mourn the loss of Joe Matthews, but the deepest pain is reserved for his children. May God be their comfort and strength.

 

This afternoon, I had the privilege of speaking at a memorial service in which we paid tribute to the memory of our former colleague. I noted then that his life, like that of any prominent leader, will be written into the history books in terms of accomplishments and regrets, mountain peaks and valleys. History tends to record the pivotal moments, while friends and loved ones record through their memories the trivialities and daily witness of character that give a fuller and truer sense of a man.

 

But even as I spoke this afternoon, I was aware that history is not a perfect record, because it is written by people. And every person has an agenda, a viewpoint, a belief and a motive. The record of Joe Matthews' life will not always be perfect and it will be up to us, who knew him, to challenge distortions and set the record straight.

 

The decisions Joe Matthews made were closely watched and analyzed, in part because he was a brilliant historian and lawyer who wrote prolifically, and in part because he was the son of Professor ZK Matthews who had already earned the respect and admiration of black South Africans. But he was also under scrutiny because he was a gifted political strategist who engaged the struggle of our country. When the ANC Youth League was formed in 1943, Joseph Matthews was one of the founders, together with Mr Anton Lembede, Mr Jordan Ngubane, Mr WF Nkomo, Mr Walter Sisulu, Mr Nelson Mandela, Mr AP Mda, Mr Robert Sobukwe, Mr Duma Nokwe and Mr Congress Mbata.

 

When Joe Matthews entered the University of Fort Hare in 1948, he immediately joined those who established the Fort Hare branch of the Youth League, to which I also belonged. Joe and I met at Fort Hare and we quickly became good friends. As students, we shared a passion for law, history and music, and as we cut our political teeth together in the ANC Youth League, we also shared a passion for South Africa's liberation. We engaged deep discussions with one another, late into the night. We spoke about freedom often; but we also spoke about our teachers, our classes and our great loves.

 

Our long friendship, which eventually spanned 62 years, offered us an insight into each other's character. I will not hesitate to say that Joe was an exceptional man; honest, warm and delightful to listen to. I think it was because Joe knew me so well, that he was able to support me when I rejected the armed struggle which the ANC in exile brought to South Africa. Joe recounted in his interview towards the book "The Long Walk to Freedom" how Nelson Mandela came to him with the idea of an armed struggle and they discussed its potential as a tool of liberation. He recounted how the idea was posed to other leaders and was accepted.

 

But Joe knew that I could never have agreed to bloodshed and loss of life, even as a means to gain political enfranchisement. To my mind, it was too high a price to pay, considering that we would eventually reach the same goal through passive resistance and negotiations. As a Christian and a patriot, I could not lead the Zulu nation to take up arms, because our country would have been reduced to ashes with no spoils of war for anyone to inherit. Joe supported my stand and never withdrew his encouragement or his friendship.

 

In the same way, Joe understood and supported my rejection of nominal independence for KwaZulu during apartheid. Had I been honey-trapped into seeing KwaZulu become a Bantustan, millions of black South Africans would have been deprived of citizenship once liberation was achieved. It was a decision that looked to the long-term future of our people. I thank God for vindicating that decision many years later, as former President FW de Klerk admitted before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that it was this decision that finally made the grand scheme of apartheid untenable.

 

Because of this history, it angered me to read in last week's Sunday Times that a member of the ANC's NEC, Dr Pallo Jordan, had spoken to the newspaper and said that Joe Matthews' legacy had been stunted by two of his decisions; one, to support Bantustans and the other, to join the IFP. Dr Jordan said this as if these things besmirched the memory of Joseph Gaobakwe Matthews. It was a distasteful utterance, to say the least, and a cheap political pot shot.

 

I was angered on behalf of my late friend, and also saddened for his daughter, our Honourable Minister, to have an insult against her father come from within her own Party. It is not the first time she has suffered because of foolish words, hastily spoken. I cannot help but think of the ANC Youth League President's attack on her beautiful accent, acquired because of her father's exile during the liberation struggle. How insulting when her own father founded the ANC Youth League.

 

I know that grief can so easily take the disguise of anger. My frustration at seeing history falsely recorded is amplified by the pain I feel at Joe Matthews' passing. I cannot stomach the idea that the immense contribution my friend made to the liberation struggle, to the field of law, to our democratic negotiations, to safety and security and to remembering our country's past the way it actually happened, may now be diminished just because he gave his allegiance to the IFP and his friendship to Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

 

I have become used to unjust vilification. But it pains me to see my friends suffer by association. Let us not allow the truth to be painted over. Joe Matthews began in the ANC Youth League. He briefly joined the South African Communist Party in the fifties. He fell out with the ANC in the seventies. He joined the IFP in 1992. He served in the Government of National Unity for the first ten years of democracy. After he retired, the ANC-led Government sought out his wisdom and advice. Joe's brilliant intellect was always in demand.

 

When he returned from exile in 1991, Joe returned to a country on the brink of change. It would have been a loss for South Africa to forgo his contribution as we negotiated a democratic dispensation, and I had no qualms in sending him to Kempton Park as a key part of the IFP's team. When we reached the point where international mediation was required, the IFP sent Dr Frank Mdlalose and Mr Joe Matthews to discussions with Mr Thabo Mbeki, Mr Jacob Zuma and Mr Penuel Maduna. Agreement was then reached on the terms of reference for mediation.

 

When the Interim Constitution established a Government of National Unity, I again had no qualms in putting Joe Matthews forward for the position of Deputy Minister of Safety and Security. It was in this position that some of us in this House had the privilege of interacting with the Honourable Joseph Gaobakwe Matthews. It is right that we remember him in this House today, and honour the contribution that he made to the Parliament and Government of South Africa.

 

His memory will remain alive in the hearts and minds of those who loved him. May history remember him as he was; a brilliant historian, a gifted leader, a patriot and a hero of South Africa's struggle.