Function in Honour of the Late Professor Lawrence Schlemmer
Tribute By Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party


 Country Club Johannesburg: 28 November 2011

 

I was saddened to find that my responsibilities in KwaZulu Natal would prevent me from attending the funeral service in Hout Bay for Professor Lawrie Schlemmer. He was a man whom I admired tremendously, and we enjoyed a friendship that spanned many years. It is therefore a balm to my soul to have this opportunity to pay tribute to Professor Schlemmer before his colleagues, friends and contemporaries.

 

I use the word contemporary cautiously though. For while I know that there are some in this room who have given their contribution to South Africa at more or less the same time as Professor Schlemmer blessed us with his contribution, I think very few of us would consider ourselves his equal. He was matchless in so many ways. Profoundly so, of course, as an academic. He was an academic par excellence and I doubt even the fiercest critics in our public discourse would dare question his credentials.

 

Through his rigorous research and enquiring mind, he gave to South Africa answers to questions we had not yet thought to ask. He spent his entire life amongst the people of this country, conducting social and political research which has been at the foundation of a great deal of the academic thinking which contributed so much towards our liberation. He never held any public office, yet he made an immense contribution to making our Republic what it is today.

 

If it were possible to trace back the genesis of the best aspects of our country's democracy, Lawrie Schlemmer would be in the mix as much as any freedom fighter or liberation hero. Indeed, when we achieved liberation, many people jumped on board and took advantage of the preparatory work conducted by heroes like Professor Lawrie Schlemmer between the mid-seventies and the mid-eighties. When the euphoria of the moment came, it was easy to partake in such initiatives. But when people like Professor Schlemmer embraced them, it was difficult and very dangerous to one's life and career.

 

My own friendship with Lawrie was based on a shared love of country, and a shared passion to see South Africa liberated from the bonds of political oppression and racial segregation. For Lawrie, this was not just a passing interest. He had such strength of his convictions and fundamental understanding of the difference between right and wrong, that he did not give two hoots what his peers thought. He knew that time and again history would prove him right, as it in fact did.

 

He sacrificed a great deal to be a champion of freedom, and he sacrificed even more for the sake of his friendship with me. When Lawrie and I became friends, the propaganda machinery of the ANC as well as the Apartheid government were already working overtime to vilify me and brand me as a traitor. Associating with Buthelezi at that time came at a cost. Many fair weather friends distanced themselves and, although it was painful, I understood why. Lawrie had higher ideals though.

 

And it was our ideals that made Lawrie and I kindred spirits and opened opportunities for us to work together to serve South Africa. In the seventies, at a time when blacks were denied membership of trade unions, we founded the Institute for Industrial Workers in Durban, to fight for trade union rights for black workers. In 1973, we were in the forefront of the big strike in Durban.  I was Chancellor of that Institute.

 

In 1980 we set up the Inkatha Institute, as a political think-tank. 

Lawrie accepted the directorship of the Institute and generated an enormous amount of valuable output. That same year, I established the Buthelezi Commission, which led to the KwaZulu Natal Indaba of 1986. 

The Indaba brought together intellectuals, businessmen and politicians throughout South Africa and across racial divides, and Lawrie was central to convening this initiative.

 

The Report of the KwaZulu Natal Indaba was so compelling that, even though it refused to give us a Joint Legislative Authority, the Apartheid regime was nonetheless forced to concede to us the establishment of the KwaZulu and Natal Joint Executive Authority, which was the first interracial government in the history of South Africa.

 

So you can imagine the kind of antagonism that sprang up against the Indaba. Lawrie became a target of this antagonism because of the central role he played in convening it. We were shocked to learn that his study at home had been set alight, but our concern grew when his offices were torched the following day. Outside his office, the perpetrators had spray-painted the demand, "No Indaba", which gave clear indication of their motives.

 

I was impressed that this kind of intimidation tactic did not deter Lawrie Schlemmer. He was a man of immense courage. Rather than withdrawing from the discourse of the day, Lawrie steadfastly continued to offer his contribution of intellect, passion and forthrightness to South Africa. Following our liberation, he kept working hard to strengthen our nation and improve the circumstances of South Africans.

 

Our friendship and our interaction also did not diminish over the years. Seventeen years into democracy, I still sought his wisdom and advice, for I recognised that our country needed to extract the greatest portion of Lawrie's gift that we possibly could, for the sake of our future. It is a great pity that God did not lend him to us for longer. Someone like that could live for hundreds of years and still be needed. But in the years he was with us, Lawrie gave himself generously and we will forever be grateful.

 

I know that we in this room are immensely proud of Lawrence Schlemmer's life's work. I hope that the high esteem in which we hold him will be of comfort to his family as they grieve this terrible loss. While there is no one who will miss him more than his family, there are many who will feel his absence. I will miss his candid conversation. He was direct and honest. Working as I do in a world of innuendo, diplomacy and lies, I appreciated that Lawrie would say what he meant and mean what he said. He was a man after my own heart.

 

There are not sufficient words to pay tribute to Lawrie Schlemmer. I hope that many more will be expended in books and journals in the years to come, as his ideas and ideals are remembered. To Mrs Schlemmer and members of his family, I extend my deepest condolences and the condolences of my family and members of the IFP.  For tonight, I simply pray that our friend will rest in peace.

 

Contact:
Ms Liezl van der Merwe, Press Officer to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510