Mrs Rabia Motala;
Mr Irshad and Ms. Shereen Motala;
Professor Yusef Karodia, Founder and CEO of MANCOSA;
Mr Riaz Meer;
Mrs Ella Gandhi;
Professor Jerry Coovadia;
Directors and Management of MANCOSA;
Comrades and Friends;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for the honour and privilege of inviting me to deliver the third lecture in remembrance of the life and service of comrade Mohammed ‘Chota’ Motala.
Firstly, I wish to congratulate and thank MANCOSA on the work that you are doing in postgraduate education, and your explicit focus on business management. Equipping our youth with such skills is critical in ensuring South Africa and the continent’s development, and in producing young leaders that aim to intervene in areas of social and economic growth, progress and advancement.
If you would allow, I would like to begin with a brief reflection on the matter of legacy, which is central to the ideas and thoughts that I wish to share with you tonight.
As the inevitable tide of our lives begins to ebb, and we find ourselves faced with the very question of our mortality, we begin to ponder the imprint of our lives on history and those around us with a renewed and studied interest. Within such contemplation, our life: its happenings, journey, ethics and morality, morphs into sites of fastidious probing. We wonder: what did we do? What mark did we leave? How will we be remembered?
These questions arise as a conjoined expression of facts, memories and nostalgia that fuse the timespans of past, present and future, which are made to coexist in our reflections on our legacies. These were questions that the poet W.B Yeats no doubt constantly pondered in his work, where he repeatedly explored the idea of ageing.
In “The Old Men Admiring Themselves in Water”, Yeats writes:
I heard the old, old men say, “Everything alters, And one by one we drop away”
When we do, unavoidably, drop away, we become the sum of various things, boiled down to an often singular idea in the public imagination – which is particularly elevated if we live our lives in the public eye, but also true of our smaller circles of influence.
Whether the humility of Mandela, the tyranny of Dr Verwoerd, the treachery of Bruno Mtolo, the vision of Dr Monty Naicker or the humanism of Nkosi Albert Lutuli , our lives come to represent a solitary image. As a consequence of this, the matter of legacy, although conceptually complicated, is one that becomes simplified in its translation to reality, as we come to stand for certain concepts and ideas.
It must be said, however, that concerns about legacy are not simply matters of life or death. Some deaths are more symbolic than others, simply signifying the ending of one chapter, and the beginning of another.
Many of us are familiar with these transitions, these exhalations of the old and passing away of former selves – be this a matter of changing employment, assuming new roles or the complex shifts that accompany transitions in human life.
Coming back closer to home, and specifically the room that we find ourselves in tonight, we have gathered because of the legacy of one man, honouring his life and the ethics that he stood for and represented for those who were close to him, and the democratic society that he so courageously fought to realise.
In honour of Chota Motala’s service to his country and the ethical and moral tenets that he signifies, I have titled my address: ‘Leaving Lasting Legacies: Renewing our vision for a non-racial, non-sexist and just democracy’ – which speaks to the contemporary climate of our democracy and urges us to move beyond this moment.
My considerations of this will touch on:
Firstly, emphasising the importance of the Constitution and our founding texts;
Secondly, considering the significance of education in our post-colonial context, and contextualising student struggles within Chota Motala’s life and legacy;
Thirdly, making sense of South Africa’s contemporary democratic challenges; and
Lastly, thinking about the kind of leadership required in this historical moment.
I wish to briefly contextualise it within the life of Chota Motala.
Born in Dundee and matriculating from Sastri College, Motala studied medicine in Bombay, during a particularly turbulent time in India. Upon his return, he was only the second black doctor to set up a medical practice in Pietermaritzburg1.
1 SA History Online: http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/mahomed-chota-motala
Beyond these matters of biography, Motala evidenced his political persuasions from his time as a young student, and such political concerns came to infuse his life’s work with sharp ethical considerations. This was particularly reflected in the way he conducted his medical practice.
Sometimes it is difficult to trace the factors that influenced us to follow the paths that we choose, and at other times the causes can be singled out with startling and immediate clarity. For Motala, seeing the conditions and hardships that his patients had to endure in apartheid’s townships ignited his commitment to political life and service during the struggle and beyond it.
Our sensitivity to the context that we live in can require us to rise above the moral and ethical conditions that permeate our surroundings, when they do not reflect the tenets of a just society.
Motala is said to have often not charged impoverished patients, reflecting a social consciousness that was not caught up in the pursuit of material trappings or the advancement of self ahead of community, and in doing this he earned the title ‘The People’s Doctor’.
This is the ethos of Ubuntu/Botho in practice – the recognition of our humanity being inextricably tied up with that of others and acknowledgement of the need to go beyond self-interest. This concern for the material life of his patients is deeply reflective of a life in service, and should be a reminder to all of us of the kind of sacrifices that are required in every sector of our democratic society. Page <b>5 </b>of <b>16 </b>
Such actions ask for us not to focus on simply attaining power, money or influence for our own gain, but to think about how we can invest in others and the ways in which we enrich ourselves and our society through service.
As such, when we speak of Chota Motala today, words like ‘courage’, ‘bravery’, ‘intellect’, ‘honesty’, ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘service’, ‘sacrifice’ and ‘commitment’ are used to give voice to his spirit, personhood and purpose.
It is remarkable to have bequeathed such a legacy, and for one’s name to invoke such attachments to the most outstanding aspects of humanism. I am sure that his family members, some of whom are gathered with us tonight, are immensely proud of such heritage being affixed to the name ‘Motala’ – as you should be.
The second line that I quoted from ‘Yeats’, which simply states that ‘everything alters’ is applicable too, to our democracy.
This is a different society from the one that we created in 1994. In many ways everything has indeed altered, but in too many it has stayed remarkably similar. This complexity – which at once demands a comprehension of sameness and difference within our current society – requires being recognised in order to understand and then deal with our present reality.
It is being dealt with extensively in public discourse – which is currently assessing the state of our democracy through multiple different forms of thought and public intellectualism.
What are we to say of this moment in time?
How do we speak of and to its challenges?
How do we give direct address to contemporary realities, acknowledging both their historicity and our complicity in the creation of our present?
What words will allow us to think of the modern democratic existence?
Contemporary democracies still contend with significant issues that require being continuously mapped out and figured out ever-shifting contexts. The concerns that have engendered conflict in the post-1994 era ask that we pose difficult, frank and pertinent questions to our own democratic context – and make sense of the country that we sought to realise back then, as well as the one that we have built since.
The danger of accepting democracy at face value exists in resting on our laurels and considering freedom, equality and justice as achieved, rather than regarding these as ideals that have to be constantly fought for, deepened and reinforced.
Writing in his influential work on the post-colony, the Algerian revolutionary Franz Fanon defines the most basic elements of people’s requirements in the new nation as being ‘bread, clothing and shelter’. This remains true for a great majority of South African citizens.
We continue to journey towards the strategic goal of building a South African society that is founded on unity, democracy, non-racialism, non-sexism, equality, justice and prosperity.
We continue to require the creation of a society that is free from all maladies of discrimination and multiple intersecting forms of oppression.
We do this as the fissures in our societies remain all too visible, particularly for the people for whom material concerns still persist – who have to find ways to stay alive, fed and healthy, before considering the possibility of thriving, being citizens or even being human in the fullest realisation of the word and experience.
For many, the conditions of post-colonial societies remain stifling, and narrow the possibilities of the future – those that must be widened, in the sense that they are expanded to reach the majority, not perpetually kept from their grasp.
There are multiple complex issues that we collectively face on the continent, and on our shores. These include matters of:
- Decent housing;
- Staggering levels of poverty;
- A culture of systemic corruption in its many forms; and
- Social inequalities and discrimination on multiple bases.
These social ills are historically rooted and inherited, but in the absence of ethical leadership assume a particularly worsening if not pronounced form.
The great triad of democratic concerns: freedom, justice and equality, are central to any conception of a better society, but not realised by the mere invocation of their name. Failure to address and preserve them, even as we realise that the social issues we face were not entirely shaped by our hands, cannot excuse our complicity in their continuation.
Our concerns with these terms and conditions of our societies, then, are not merely abstract – but rooted in practical realisation of the rights enshrined in the founding texts of our democracies. They are grounded in water, electricity, decent housing, universal and affordable education, a thriving healthcare sector, freedom from discrimination, universal citizenship and found in every promise we made at the dawn of our democratic era.
It would be remiss of me not to mention one of the most pressing moments in our society – the activities and actions that are going on beyond these walls, on our university campuses – particularly as we find ourselves in the context of teaching and learning at MANCOSA’s campus, and given Motala’s legacy as a student activist.
In line with this, a few months ago the iconic scholar, communist and feminist activist Angela Davis stood on the stage at UNISA’s ZK Matthews Great Hall, delivering a keynote address in honour of the life and legacy of Steve Biko at the lecture that bears his name.
Before touching on the salient points of her speech, it is poignant to note the symbolic convergence of these three historical figures through the act of this address. The keynote was delivered by Davis, dedicated to Biko in a hall bearing Matthews’ name.
Her words were challenging, profound and provocative – questioning the legacies we leave as activists, as well as intergenerational approaches to present struggles and the protests that confront them. As a result, they tie into the concerns of my lecture to you tonight – as one cannot speak about the life of Chota Motala without considering activism, sites of struggle and student politics.
Davis argued that ‘the revolution that we wanted was not the revolution we helped to produce’. She cautioned that ‘even though there are never guarantees that we will reach the futures we dream, we cannot stop dreaming and we cannot stop struggling’. Davis emphasised that ‘there will always be vibrant legacies, there will always be unfulfilled promises, there will always be unfinished activisms’.
Perhaps in our context and among those responsible for the attainment of this present, we are afraid to acknowledge the challenges that have emerged because we fear that they will obliterate our legacies. Maybe we do not make statements like ‘race matters’ in South Africa, to borrow a phrase from the scholar Cornel West, because we promised that it would not.
Possibly, we are reticent to acknowledge that our reality presents us with an imperfect society because we fear that our contribution to its realisation will go unrecognised at best, and at worse will render us imperfect heroes and heroines with clay feet.
These are human fears that bear the marks of our fragile mortality. But particularly as leaders in society, we should not be afraid to express these realisations and harsh truths. Doing so renders our leadership relevant and legitimate, and ignoring these results in the realisations of the very fears that we sought to escape: it implicates us, to some degree, in the continuation of the order that we sought to overcome.
There is much to do in our democracy. Will the often phrased struggle statement ‘aluta continua’ be forever relevant – as we must push democracy to its utmost realisation in every era?
In this historical moment in time, reality is in tension with the vision that we built our democratic society upon. These circumstances are most acutely being challenged by those who have inherited the democracy that we struggled for: the so-called born free youth of our country.
Students have historically been a group that have raised their voices in protest and sought change through more radical means than older activist generations. Many of us know this because we were those students – raising fists, stones and voices to articulate the indignities of our era.
Across the country, our youth are questioning the present. In doing this, they have been met with what they deem to be intransigence.
There is much to question, debate and unpack. This is no simple matter that can be condensed into easy polarities and dichotomies. However, what is of critical importance is that we pay attention to the roots of their discontents: which speak of societal diseases that we have yet to overcome and fully treat.
We need to take the foundations of these protests seriously as moments like this call for us to introspect about the nature of this society and the quality of our democracy. To quote the writer and thinker James Baldwin: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced’.
We should recall that the Freedom Charter was clear on the notion of higher education, stating that ‘Higher education and technical training shall be open to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.’
While the Freedom Charter contended for state intervention at the level of allowances and scholarships, it equally never under-emphasised the key issue of merit, which, ultimately, raises the all-important matter of responsibility.
This context of education as envisaged by the Freedom Charter was intended for the purposes of:
- The development of national talent;
- An enrichment of cultural life;
- The exchange of ideas on our shores and beyond them;
- And to abolish the stratification of the previous education system, which operated by way of oppression.
Our late Former President, Nelson Mandela, once said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ In order to advance our country and continent and see it become a world leader in innovation, modernisation and critical skills, and stand at the vanguard of our digital future – we need to create spaces of teaching and learning that nourish intellectual and creative development at all levels.
These spaces need to be equipped with all necessary elements of the learning process:
- skilled and passionate teachers and lecturerers, and betterment in teacher training;
- An improved curriculum;
- Good school textbooks and information technology;
- and better infrastructure.
This will require extraordinary effort on our part to create sophisticated centres of basic and tertiary education that will propel us into the future, by nurturing our young minds and ensuring their development.
We should, then, use this moment to think about the kind of education that is necessary to take our country and continent into the next phase of intellectual development and the skills that will be required to ensure that Africa becomes a world leader in multiple sectors in the future.
The youth segment of society are the claimants of the future, consequently it is only fair that they have a stake and say in its fashioning and that we engage them in meaningful dialogue towards mapping out strategies for development. In doing this,
we need to consider the mode of consciousness needed to bring the youth into the creation of a renewed society as equal partners.
At present, it is evident that there are indeed age-based disjunctures between our various segments of society, accompanied by disproportionate representation in terms of power.
We should not create obstructionist circumstances that throw the youth out of our society, whether symbolically or physically – and leave them no choice but to seek better shores and swell the ranks of foreign populations. They need access to quality education on our shores, and employment opportunities once they depart from our campuses.
What is evidenced by much young inquisition into the nature of our state here, which echoes across the world, is an interrogation of the inheritance of a dream and the symbols of statehood that we have attached to it.
In this moment, we are reminded that politics should not be an exclusive old men’s club that speaks more to the past than to the future, and primarily we are reminded of the dreams that we once held as young students protesting against an authoritarian regime.
We have to renew our vision of the societies that we seek to create, after the elation of initial post-colonial moments and with the benefit of hindsight and critical reflection.
Tasked with realising this vision are leaders of many kinds:
Firstly, leaders who rank amongst the political segment of society and those who are engaged in governance;
Secondly, leaders in the business and entrepreneurial sector;
Thirdly, leaders who are tasked with the act of thinking in the academy and outside of it: intellectuals and organic thinkers, who push the boundaries of our minds, and challenge the scope of our consideration;
And fourthly, leaders from civil society and grassroots organisations – who must, like all of us, ensure that they remain free from compradorship, that their interests are inwardly focused (that is to say towards the continent) and that they are unencumbered by external strings.
Africa’s future is not dependent on any one class – including those who have the popular mandate to govern. It is dependent on the collective action of those driven by a singular, focused vision: a vision that inspires communal goals for the future that we seek to create.
Such a vision for our society asks for an immense commitment to clarifying the present state of our nation and continent, and striving towards the all-inclusive realisations of just, free and equal states.
In thinking about what a renewed vision for our society requires, I often return to the intentions that gave rise to the tenets of our new society. These can be found in the 34 principles that constructed the Constitution, they are present in the terms and conditions agreed upon at the first CODESA meeting, and they were inspired by the Freedom Charter.
The Freedom Charter is particularly relevant to remembering the life of Chota Motala. As joint chairperson of the Natal Midlands Committee of the Congress of the People – which was formed to allow all to have a voice in the crafting of the Freedom Charter, he had a direct impact on one of the most
important struggle texts, that continues to have enduring value in our age.
Adopted at the Congress of the People in June 1955, this document although small in its physical manifestation, is large in scope. It widens our understanding of freedom and humanity, and enlarges our commitment to democracy.
Through stating that our country belongs to all, and will be governed by the people in accordance with their will, it contains an unyielding commitment to the development of a just society that is devoid of the stains of past relations: past relations which are structured by hierarchies according to race, class, sex and belief.
The commitment to equality among all in South Africa is one that we are still endeavouring to achieve, and must continue to do so as we build on the legacy of those founding mothers and fathers of our state. As the Charter states, ‘And we pledge ourselves to strive together sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set-out have been won.’
The historical record remains stained by the arrest and imprisonment of Chota Motala and 155 other activists following his noble mobilisation for the Congress of the People.
And so we continue to work towards the attainment of the society that we envisaged all those years ago – in honour of the many lives that were lived and lost in the service of the ideals embedded in the very idea of democracy.
Chota Motala stands as one such life – emblematic of the kind of humanity that we should all seek to express and live out. His example stands to remind us of the vision that we had, and that we still journey towards.
Many South Africans are asking legitimate questions about the state of our nation today, and are beginning to wonder whether the direction we are taking is not the antithesis of what Motala and his generation and those before had envisioned for post-Apartheid society.
No one in their sound mind would disagree with them. What is encouraging though is to see society reclaiming what rightfully belongs to us.
Society is restive and agitated, it is saying no to state capture. It is saying no to self-enrichment. It is saying no to the corrosive culture that has encroached upon us. The current degenerate moral climate that is morphing into the new normal cannot take hold in our midst while the vibrant historical memory evocative of comrade Chota Motala and many other impeccable leaders is still underpinning our consciousness.
The elastic moral parameters set off by this historical memory allow society to contest the brazen abuse of political discourse, office and leadership positions by those elected to further the cause of our freedom.
For this legacy we are thankful of comrade Chota Motala and the many inspired men and women who, when faced with the imperatives of their age, rose in mighty unison and, in the words of the American author and Nobel laureate Tony Morrison, asserted that:
‘the function of freedom is to free someone else’.
Longevity is promised to none of us. The quality of the life that we lead, particularly in relation to how we treat other human beings, is of critical importance, and will survive us. To quote from Fidel Castro’s memoir on Che Guevara:
‘Revolutionaries do not struggle for honour or glory, or to occupy a place in history. Che occupied, occupies and will always occupy a great place in history because that was not important to him, because he was always absolutely selfless. And so his life became an epic, his life became an example.’
Comrade Chota, like Che, was trained to save lives.
Ultimately, that is what we struggle for.
I thank you for your kind attention.