Mabuza remembers late minister as exceptional 'bridge builder'

Mthembu's death is a loss to country and humanity, says deputy president

The late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu was a man full of empathy and compassion, committed to the values of human solidarity and servant leadership.
The late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu was a man full of empathy and compassion, committed to the values of human solidarity and servant leadership.
Image: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Our country is gripped in the deep throws of pain. Death keeps striking. In this instance it struck our cabinet colleague, the minister in the presidency, Mr Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu, whom we are gathered to pay homage to.

This is not a passing of an individual, but a premature departure of a representative of a great generation. The likes of minister Mthembu, come to pass this way once.

In their wake, they leave us the gifts of liberty and freedom; in their commendable journey they leave us footprints of a well-fought struggle; and they take with them the well-deserved glories of reverence.

It falls upon a special generation to dream of liberation and achieve it, and for such freedom to be cherished. minister Mthembu belonged to this eminent generation of freedom fighters, whose contribution to our freedom and democracy deserves to be cherished for generations.

Minister Mthembu symbolises a generation of freedom fighters, who came of political age after June 1976, to leave us footprints of a well-fought Struggle against apartheid and a well-trodden journey to build the foundations of democracy in SA.  

Mthembu survived an armed robbery where he almost lost his life; and he also overcame pain for the loss of his mother and the traumatic loss of his eldest daughter.

Despite these personal adversities and tragic moments in his life, he demonstrated amazing abilities to overcome pain and use his own experiences to inspire hope in others. This was a man who was always willing to meet anyone and everyone irrespective of their social standing. This was a man full of empathy and compassion, committed to the values of human solidarity and servant leadership.  

Having overcome this and surviving many threats to his life as an activist during the fight against apartheid, tragically, today we lost him to this invisible enemy.

The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic we are faced with, is a tangible reminder that life knows no sense of occasion, just as it gives arbitrarily in birth, it takes indiscriminately in death, taking away the steady shoulders of giants. It shakes the foundations upon which we stand tall, and it exposes that we are but mere mortals.

As a nation, we have been unjustly robbed of a champion for social justice for the marginalised and destitute. For him, the public service leadership role meant that in everything we do, we must never stray from our relentless pursuit of changing the lives of poor and vulnerable communities for the better. Minister Mthembu’s commitment to freedom, human rights and democratic governance, is beyond reproach. He stood for the truth and nothing less. 

Without a doubt, the untimely passing of minister Mthembu is a loss not only to his family, but an unforeseen grief, shared by many from diverse political formations and ideological orientations, more especially those who admired his humanity.

It is not surprising to find that leaders from different sectors of society and in the media fraternity, stand undivided in commending the personal and professional attributes of minister Jackson Mthembu.

To them, minister Mthembu was an exceptional bridge-builder and a model of selfless public service to the people. In him and through his deeds, he personified what Martin Luther King Jr said about effective leadership: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.”

Fortunately, this sage counsel was embraced by minister Mthembu from his early days as a student activist, when he was a labour representative and in various guises as the spokesperson of the governing party. He also served in the provincial executive council of Mpumalanga provincial government, where personally I had a privilege to serve alongside him.

When he was the Chief Whip of the governing party in the National Assembly, his consensus-moulding attributes shone for all to see and learn from, across the political divide. His inclusive and collaborative approach to resolving issues facing the nation defined his core attributes as leader who played a critical role in shaping our democracy.

He understood that the diversity of views and ideological differences should not engender hatred and anger. Instead, debates and differences are essential ingredients of a strong democratic culture that always seeks to find common ground, unity and a shared sense of patriotism and nationhood.

Fellow Compatriots, more recently, in the sixth administration led by President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, his empowering attributes guided his exercise of executive authority in overseeing a diverse portfolio of communications-related entities.  

Few would disagree that minister Mthembu serves as a role model to his colleagues and to the young of our nation. To him, governing instead of ruling meant implementing government’s priorities in a manner that maintains the integrity of the state, whilst seeking to eliminate cynicism towards it. 

As a minister in the presidency, he inspired all staff irrespective of rank, and he respected them equally. He actively worked with administrative leadership in the institution as we sought to build an agile, responsive and fit-for-purpose presidency that provides leadership at the apex of government, in order to tackle critical issues facing our country. 

Minister Mthembu was always preoccupied by realising the ideal of a capable and developmental state. This is important presently in fighting the second surge of Covid-19 cases where the strength of our healthcare system is being tested. 

We must all come together and place our shoulders to the wheel in the continued fight of preventing human mortality and morbidity, and play our part in curbing further spread of the virus, as well as support efforts to find scientific solutions to the current crisis.  

Fellow compatriots, as we pay tribute to minister Mthembu, we should leverage on the lessons learnt in 2020, when, to some extent, we managed to stem the first surge of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

One abiding lesson we take with us in 2021, is that working in silos as various government departments and entities compromises our ability to implement an existential fight to save human lives and livelihoods. In his role as the minister in the presidency, Jackson Mthembu played a critical leadership role in enhancing the coordination and integration of government efforts in the fight against the ravaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including fostering partnerships with government’s social partners. 

Therefore, in honouring his life, it is incumbent upon all of us, from labour, business, academia, civil society, inter-faith and traditional institutions, to come together in the fight to save lives and livelihoods, and finally defeat the pandemic.

As we closed the year in December last year, minister Mthembu was instrumental in our engagements with military veterans from all formations as we sought to improve their well-being. On the day of his passing, we were scheduled to meet with and provide feedback to the president on these engagements.

So, minister Mthembu passed on in the line of duty.bWe therefore make use of this platform in his memory, to recognise minister Mthembu’s incomparable talents in advancing the course of freedom and democracy.

May the soul and spirit of Mr Jackson Mphikwa Mthembu rest in eternal peace, and may his exemplary actions live with us forever. To his family, especially his dear wife Thembi and children, we extend our deepest condolences. Your loss is a loss to the country and humanity.

Ziyofa izinsizwa kosala izibongo. Mthembu, Mvelase wena owavela enyandeni. 

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