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