Address by the ANC President Jacob Zuma at the funeral service of Billy Nair, Durban Exhibition Centre, October 30 2008
The family and friends of Comrade Billy Nair,
The President of the Republic, Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Province, Sbu Ndebele,
Members of the ANC National Executive Committee,
Chairperson of the ANC in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, Cde Zweli Mkhize,
Cosatu President Cosatu, Cde Sdumo Dlamini,
SACP Secretary General, Cde Blade Nzimande,
SANCO Deputy President, Cde Ruth Bhengu
Leadership of the ANC Women's and Youth Leagues,
Leadership of the Cosatu and SACP, Comrades and friends,
There comes a time in the life of every revolutionary, when the sun must set. And when it does, the remaining fellow soldiers should not be at a loss for words to describe the life and times of the fallen soldier.
That is the case with Comrade Billy Nair. We are gathered to celebrate the life of a stalwart and hero of our struggle. We do not have to mumble, as his life was straightforward, dedicated to the service of his people, and of this country.
Comrade Billy Nair was, indeed, everything for our struggle.
He was, in general, an embodiment of all the facets of our struggle, and in particular the embodiment of the Congress Alliance. He is one of a few Comrades who was a member of all the Congress Alliance organisations. He was a member of the Natal Indian Congress, SACTU, South African Communist Party, the African National Congress, uMkhonto weSizwe and later part of the collective leadership of the United Democratic Front.
We are proud of this leader and cadre of our movement. We are not hesitant to speak out about his life, which was dedicated to the service of this nation and its people in a most outstanding manner.
Comrades this is a sad week as the ANC is also mourning the loss of Mama Vuyiswa Nokwe, who is also an ANC stalwart and life partner of former ANC Secretary General, Comrade Duma Nokwe. We also pay tribute to her for her dedication in our struggle as a cadre of our movement. She remained committed to the ANC until her time of death. We send condolences to her family, friends and relatives. She will be buried this coming weekend.
The ANC is fortunate to have cadres and members who dedicate their lives to the movement until they catch their last breath, working to create a better life for all.
Comrade Billy Nair dedicated 58 years of his life to the African National Congress and the struggle for the liberation of this country and its people. What more dedication could we ever want from a man who put the freedom of his people above everything else in his life?
Comrade Nair loved this country and its people, and would never rest until all South Africans could live in freedom and equality as proclaimed in the Freedom Charter.
He worked at Clover Dairies, and was fired after six months for leading a workers' strike. He joined the Dairy Workers' Union as a full-time organizer and secretary. This was the beginning of a long involvement in the trade union movement culminating in his influence in the launch of COSATU in 1985.
We emphasise that we are today celebrating 58 years of fighting for freedom and justice. Comrade Nair joined the Natal Indian Youth Congress and became its secretary in 1950. In 1952 he took part in the defiance campaign and served a prison term.
He was also Organising Secretary for 17 trade unions. In the 1950s he played a key role in the formation of the SA Congress of Trade Unions. Throughout the 50s he played an active role in all the campaigns and was a prominent leader of the Natal Indian Congress.
In 1960 when the ANC was banned, he went underground and mobilised people from the underground while on the run from the police.
In 1961, he joined uMkhonto Wesizwe and became a member of the Natal Command of MK together with Comrades Ebrahim Ebrahim, Curnick Ndlovu, Ronnie Kasrils and others.
He was arrested in 1963 and was charged with sabotage in the well-known Natal sabotage trial in 1964 and was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island, with our icons Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and others.
On his release in 1984, he became an active leader in the United Democratic Front. He will always be remembered for his integrity, honesty and straight-talk. He was a mentor, leader, and a role model to many generations of activists.
In remembering our stalwart, we have to reflect on the culture and traditions of our movement. Comrade Nair was schooled in the culture of sacrifice, dedication and commitment, a culture of putting the ANC and what it stands for above personal interests and ambitions.
The ANC has a history, a present and a future. Its history guides us and ensures that we do not go astray. Part of our history and tradition is the non-racial character of the ANC.
It is the patriotism and dedication of Comrade Nair and others who made us see beyond race, and to view oppression and racism as a system that we had to destroy at all costs, without destroying the people who practised or benefited from it.
Our non-racial character stems from the fact that we are an organisation that is deeply rooted in human rights, humanity and ubuntu. Whether one lives in Chatsworth or KwaMashu, our diversity defines our character and unifies us in a most unique way.
In 1923 the ANC became the first political organization on the continent to adopt a Bill of Rights. In 1943, the ANC adopted the African claims, a bill of rights which asserted the right of African people to self-determination and human rights.
This Bill of Rights laid the basis of future development of the human rights perspectives and liberation struggle in the coming decades.
It created the condition for broadening the base of the liberation movement with the signing of a co-operation pact in 1947 between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress known as the Xuma-Dadoo-Naicker Pact which eventually led to the formation of the Congress Alliance in the early 1950's.
The principle of humanity and the non-racial character of the ANC informed the formation of the Congress Alliance that translated to the adoption of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People - at Kliptown in 1955. This was the first such fully representative gathering in the history of South Africa.
We, therefore, became the first National liberation movement to develop a home-grown human rights culture ahead of the international community. The United Nations, formed in 1946 only adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
The same year, 1948, the Nationalist Party came to power on the platform of Apartheid Colonialism and began to discuss a host of discriminatory laws. The delegates that met at Kliptown responded with the claim that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people".
Having proclaimed that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, the Charter declared that all national groups shall have equal rights, that all people shall have the equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs.
The Charter proclaims that all national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride, and that the preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime.
The Freedom Charter became the cornerstone that guided the policy and practices, the strategy and tactics of the ANC for over forty years after its adoption and still forms the core guiding principles of the ANC.
In 1954 the Federation of South African Women, a body in which the ANC Women's League played a leading role in its formation, adopted the Women's Charter. This Charter became a guiding principle of women's emancipation in our country and firmly established the foundation of a non- sexist society in our country, a principle we will defend at all times.
The ANC and the Mass Democratic Movement have always defended non-racialism. In the mid 1980s, when the ANC and the Mass Democratic Movement made the country ungovernable, the Apartheid regime proposed group and human rights as the basis of a negotiated settlement. They sought to use group rights to disguise their Bantustan policy. This was fiercely rejected.
In 1987 the ANC issued a statement on negotiations, which rejected the concept of group rights. This statement was followed by the constitutional guidelines for a Democratic South Africa in 1988 and the Harare Declaration which laid the foundation for a negotiated settlement.
As we lay this revolutionary to rest, we re-affirm that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. We underline our acknowledgement and appreciation of the contribution of this outstanding cadre who sacrificed the good life so that ours could be a better country.
We also reaffirm that we will never stray from the culture and traditions of our movement. We confirm that we will continue to draw inspiration from the lessons gained from the lives of Comrade Billy Nair and all our heroes, Comrades Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Beyers Naude, Braam Fischer, Chris Hani, Dorothy Nyembe, Florence Mophosho and many others.
In memory of this hero of our struggle, we urge all ANC members to remain steadfast in the principles and traditions of the movement.
They must not be swayed into negative action by the anger arising out of the new phenomenon of ANC members who are calling a so-called convention to discuss the formation of a new political party.
We wish the adventurists luck, and are pleased that many are coming out and are resigning from the ANC. We expect the convention to unmask many others who will hopefully also leave us in peace without any further delay.
The ANC lives, it leads, it is strong, and it will lead this country for decades to come, depending on the will of the people as expressed in the Freedom Charter.
We remain unfazed by the occurrences of the past few weeks. The ANC is not for the faint-hearted. If it were, it would not have leaders of the calibre of Comrade Billy Nair or Comrade Nelson Mandela.
We are continuing with our programme of building and strengthening our structures. We will continue with the programme of organisational renewal and to heal the ANC.
We are determined to build a caring ANC, and will listen and address the grievances of all members who wish to engage the movement constructively.
Comrades and friends, as a cadre of our movement, a leader, a Member of Parliament and in all capacities, Comrade Nair never turned his back on this movement and on the people of our country. We salute him for his dedication, commitment and loyalty, which should serve as a lesson to all. He has taught us that ANC membership is for life, otherwise, why would anyone join the ANC if they will run at the first sight of difficulty?
We salute Mrs Nair and the entire family who went through a lot of hardship due to the choices Comrade Nair made to dedicate his life to the struggle.
We respect you all for your patriotism and selflessness and will never forget your contribution to his life and to the struggle.
May you find solace in the knowledge that Comrade Nair will always be our treasure and hero, inspiring us as well as generations to come, never to steer away from the traditions of the Congress movement, and from working to build a better, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
On behalf of the African National Congress we wish to convey our heart-felt condolences to the Nair family, relatives and friends. In Billy Nair, you have lost an important member of the family. To the broader family of the ANC and the Congress Alliance, we have also lost one of our most distinguished leaders. We feel the pain of loss together with you.
To you Comrade Billy, on behalf of all of us, I would like to say: You played your role in the struggle to liberate our country and our people. You participated in every level and form of our struggle. You were a fighter for freedom and human rights. You were a fighter for the rights and better conditions for the workers through your participation in the trade Union Movement. You were a fighter for the total emancipation of humanity as a Communist. And you were also a fighter for our freedom as a member and a cadre of uMkhonto weSizwe.
To all these organisations, you helped to shape strategies and tactics, and brought ideological clarity and deepened commitment and dedication. You, indeed, led cadres and volunteers to action. You always led from the front and by example. For all of this, we salute you Comrade Billy Nair and we say you have run your race. You accomplished the task of liberating our people.
We will pick up your spear as we surge forward in the current struggle to better the lives of our people. As we bid you farewell, we all say to you, rest in peace.
Issued by the African National Congress