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Uncle Billy a special kind of leader who made all in his presence feel special

Ambassador Billy Modise with former president Thabo Mbeki and other dignitries./Supplied
Ambassador Billy Modise with former president Thabo Mbeki and other dignitries./Supplied

I would like, on behalf of our government and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to thank all of you who have come to share their grief with us and mourn with the family. We thank you also for taking time to use this opportunity to enlighten South Africans about this somewhat reserved, but amazing son of our country.

Our profound condolences to the family of our leader and colleague, ambassador Billy Modise.

As you have heard from all the speakers, your pain and grief is our own pain and grief. It is with deepest sense of loss that we come together here now, in our case for the fifth memorial service in as many months to pay tribute to one of our finest, the eminent ambassador, Billy Modise.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a special official funeral for ambassador Billy Modise, an honour bestowed upon distinguished persons by the president and indeed befitting a recipient of the National Order of Luthuli.

We, all of us have heard speaker after speaker emphasising the invaluable lessons we have learned from ambassador Billy Modise. And I hope and trust that many of us will carry these lessons forever and pass them on to the next generation. He had the composure of a sage - no, better put, he had the characteristic composure of the sage that he was. He possessed an extraordinary calm passion which many a time helped him to discharge the necessary accuracy of expression and judgement on very complex issues.

He had the distinct ability to listen intently to everyone; to each and every conversation, even what may, to some, be deemed boring exchanges. He never hurried anyone with pompous zeal or an air of superiority.

In his interactions he never assumed that nature had made any distinction between human beings. Thus, through his down-to-earth, self-effacing manner, he became the leader of all of us. In fact, everyone felt so very special in his presence. On the other hand, being the kind of man that he was, everyone who felt special, was indeed special to him. But one thing is certain, he had the talent to make it so.

Behind this absence of arrogance lay a firm character, a solid soul that made him to be an unfaltering, unwavering and committed freedom fighter.

In ambassador Modise we all appreciated and still appreciate a generation that exuded the superiority of knowledge, wisdom and virtue. Uncle Billy, as he was fondly called by us, joined the ANC when the students of Fort Hare answered the call to join the ranks of the struggling masses of South Africa. From then on, he never spared himself. He refused to be a bystander when legions of apartheid armed policemen continued to spill more blood of the innocent and defenceless oppressed people.

Uncle Billy left the country, responding to the call from the ANC for the youth of that time to seek better and more effective ways to challenge the brutality of the apartheid regime.

As part of his responsibilities, he tirelessly mobilised, especially the Nordic countries to be the true partners of our liberation struggle. Thus, his efforts ensured that a very bitter and difficult struggle had to make critical and necessary advances towards freedom.

As chief of state protocol, Modise effortlessly enhanced the prestige and standing of our country to great eminence. In him other countries saw a South Africa that was confident without being arrogant. A country that exhibited a true spirit of humanity and which was a natural ally for a world that must attain peace, stability, democracy and prosperity for all its citizens.

On behalf of our government and particularly this department, let us thank his dearest wife Sis Yoli and most beloved daughter Thandi for their fortitude.

Sis Yoli, we know that without your love, care and support we would not have met the Uncle Billy we are talking about today.

Thank you for selflessly giving us time with your husband, and Thandi with your father. Thank you for looking after him to the end. Sis Yoli. In you comrade Billy found the perfect wife: beautiful, articulate, political, I can go on. But what he would never have known is just how strong you are. He would be so proud of you. We are awed by your strength and love.

Thandi, you are an amazing daughter. Look after sis Yoli and we will be right behind you all the time.

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