I extend a special greeting to all our veterans who cannot be with us in person today to pay their last respects to one of their own. This is indeed a sad day and a sad time in the life of our nation.
Over the past few months we have lost a number of our veterans, most recently Ntate Andrew Mlangeni, his fellow Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg, Mme Martha Mmola, Mme Mirriam Setshego Martin, Ms Zindzi Mandela, Mama Thoko Msimang, George du Plessis and others.
With the passing of Ntate Nkadimeng yet another light in a glorious generation has been extinguished.
On behalf of the people of South Africa I convey my deep and heartfelt condolences to the family, comrades, friends and relatives of Ntate Nkadimeng.
Death has robbed us of a valuable repository of knowledge and experience.
Ntate Nkadimeng has been accorded a special official funeral in recognition of the incredible contribution that he made to the freedom of our country.
He suffered for the freedoms that we enjoy today, he sacrificed, he fought, he led, and he was led.
Like so many of the great leaders of our country, he was witness to the poverty and deprivation of rural South Africa.
Growing up in Sekhukhune, he felt with every day the bitter pain of colonial dispossession, of livelihoods so callously destroyed just so that the riches of our soil may be exploited for the benefit of others.
Like so many of the people he would come to lead, Ntate Nkadimeng left his rural home to seek a living in the big city.
He came here to Johannesburg, first finding employment as a domestic worker and then as a factory worker.
Apartheid had determined that he should live a life of servitude, toiling each day for the comfort and security of a white master.
Ntate Nkadimeng, however, had different plans.
Yes, he would endure a life of service, but not to any master other than the struggling masses of South Africa, not to any cause other than the cause of freedom and equality.
At a young age, he became a shopsteward and full-time organiser, certain that it was only through effective organisation that the workers of this country could improve the conditions under which they were forced to work and live.
This was a dangerous time to be a trade union organiser, risking arrest, harassment and even violence. But he would not be deterred.
He was there when the South African Congress of Trade Unions – SACTU – was formed in 1955, and, 30 years later, was an influential figure in the formation of COSATU.
Ntate Nkadimeng was an unwavering champion of the unity of workers and the working class in general.
To his dying day, he shared the vision of uniting all trade unions under one federation.
He firmly believed that this would make trade unions stronger and more impactful in improving the lives of working people.
As a young man, he joined the liberation movement because he believed that the struggle for national liberation was essential to the struggle to end class exploitation.
As a volunteer in the Defiance Campaign in 1952 and as a leading organiser of the Congress of the People in 1955, as a member of the Transvaal ANC executive and later the ANC National Executive, Ntate Nkadimeng was a vital part of the generation that transformed the ANC into a militant, mass movement – and thereby changed the course of our history.
He paid the price for his convictions.
He was arrested on a number of occasions, detained as a suspected saboteur and banned.
He was one of the 156 Congress leaders arrested in pre-dawn raids in December 1956 and tried for high treason.
He remained an accused until the end of the trial in 1961, when all remaining defendents were found not guilty.
These brave men and women – through the ordeals they endured, through their defiance, through their courage at one of the darkest moments in our history – endure in our memories and continue to inspire our actions.
Ntate Nkadimeng was a human rights activist and worked with the Human Rights Welfare Committee, established to make contact with banished people throughout South Africa and to find those banished after the Sekhukhune trials in the late 1950s.
He did this in a country that did not know or respect human rights.
It was due to his work and the work of many others like him that we are today a country founded on human rights and dignity for all.
His life stood as an example of how we should each conduct ourselves as we seek to build a more just and humane society.
As it has been written, when a good man or woman dies, their light lies upon the paths of others.
The example they set and the values they lived by are a guide to those that follow.
Each time one of our veterans passes away, a part of history dies with them.
And as much as we mourn them, it is our solemn task to ensure that what they stood for does not die.
The role played by Ntate Nkadimeng in the conception of a free and democratic South Africa will never be forgotten.
He lived and understood the daily struggles of working people.
He suffered the oppression and exploitation of apartheid capitalism and dedicated his life to ensuring that workers should enjoy the results of their labour.
He believed in the unalienable right to dignity for all South Africans, but especially for those who bore the brunt of economic marginalisation.
It is that commitment and determination that we need today as the workers of this country face perhaps their greatest challenge since the advent of democracy.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact not just on public health, but on livelihoods.
Many people have lost their jobs and their incomes.
Our already fragile economy has been significantly damaged and the task of recovery will be immense.
Drawing on the spirit of Ntate Nkadimeng, we must unite as social partners in government, business, labour and civil society to do everything within our means to rebuild our economy.
More than that, we must transform our economy, so that it resembles less of where we were before the pandemic and more of where we want to be.
We must ensure that the world of work which emerges from this crisis is one in which the conditions of workers are dramatically improved in all respects.
John Kgoana Nkadimeng became an activist with no expectation of recognition or reward.
He was not a person who liked the limelight.
He was humble, despite his considerable stature and standing in his community.
He was not one for accolades, despite being a recipient of the Order of Luthuli in Gold and Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe, which is the highest honour bestowed by the African National Congress.
To him, such recognition was secondary to his commitment to serving his people.
He endured immense personal hardships including numerous arrests, banning orders and exile.
But the difficult conditions did not discourage him and his comrades.
On the contrary, they only sharpened his resolve.
Just as we strive together in the spirit of solidarity to protect the rights of society’s most vulnerable, so too must we work together to rid our society of the scourge of cronyism and corruption.
It is of the gravest of concern that we are being confronted with the misdeeds of those abusing their access to political and state power to enrich themselves.
Day by day, we learn more about actions of thieving, looting and corruption.
Day by day, the trust and confidence of our people is being eroded, leading many to proclaim that the days of ethical and selfless leadership are behind us.
At a time when we are losing ever more from the generation who led us to victory over apartheid, we are at a very real risk of destroying the gains they secured for us and our children.
Their sacrifices must not be in vain.
We must firmly take back the reigns from those out to destroy our country.
Now, more than ever, we have to hold fast to the lessons they taught us about serving our people, about respecting them, about heeding their concerns and about acting in their best interests.
Let this be a turning point in the fight against corruption.
Let us use this moment to banish this disease from our politics, from our movement, from our economy, from our country.
Let the people of rural Sekhukhune, the domestic workers in our cities, the shopstewards in our factories, the people who John Nkadimeng led and served, rise up against those who would plunder our nation’s resources and lay waste to our democracy.
Let us give our law enforcement agencies the support, the information and the means to act against all those responsible for such crimes against the people – no matter who they are or what positions they occupy.
Let those of us who have been put in positions of responsibility examine our own conduct, search our consciences and act only and always in the interests of the people of this country.
Now, more than ever, we have to stand united in our quest to restore our country to its founding values – values that Ntate Nkadimeng lived by.
We must draw on his life’s example to recapture the spirit of humility and volunteerism.
We must expend our every effort to take up the struggles against poverty, inequality, underdevelopment, disease and gender-based violence.
The world we seek to build, where there is true freedom, justice and equality, has still to be realised.
Let it not be said in time that the selfless spirit that drove the men and women of the generation of Ntate Nkadimeng died with them.
It is not enough to eulogise them and laud the values by which they lived.
It is only by restoring that culture of selflessness, of integrity, of ethical leadership and of service to the people that will uphold their legacy.
As we carry Ntate John Kgoana Nkadimeng to his final resting place, let us recommit ourselves to the renewal of our society and our country.
Brick by brick, let us finish the task of building the South Africa to which he and his generation dedicated their lives.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
I thank you.