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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

1996: Mandela, Nelson - Eulogy for Joe Slovo

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Chairperson, President of the Constitutional Court, Judge Arthur Chaskalson, Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly and Secretary General of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, members of the Cabinet and Deputy Ministers, Chairman of the Gauteng Branch of the ANC and the Premier of Gauteng, Generals of the South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Services, Secretary General of the South African Communist Party, Charles Nqakula, leaders of the tripartite alliance, visitors, comrades and friends.

When the ANC held its electoral victory celebrations at the Carlton Centre on the night of 2nd May 1994 I had a touch of 'flu but I defied my doctor's orders and attended so I could now face the function when the trumpets sounded the salute of ... Joe Slovo was there too. It was a moment we could not miss and so we were all together to savour the joy that the cause for which so many perished was coming to fruition. That occasion on the tenth floor will remain with me for a long time. We knew that the bone marrow cancer was starting to take its toll but Joe rose above it and together we all danced the night away. When I asked him to take up the housing portfolio he rallied again. Joe was not a person who could allow illness, no matter how terminal, to stand in his way.

His life history reads like a chronicle of our struggle. His life history: he joined the anti-Nazi detachment in the war against Hitler, he was in the thick of the mass campaign throughout the roaring fifties and he stood for (freedom and democracy) alongside our other leaders of our movement. Joe was there when we decided to embark on armed struggle and was prepared for the risk involved. We knew that we were to go along a new road for the liberation of our country and that once we took that road there would be no going back. He was appointed a Deputy Commander in Chief of the people's army and was among the early combatants who took the weapons. He remained in the ranks of uMkhonto throughout the period of re-grouping and later campaigns, serving as Chief of Operations and later as Chief of Staff. Joe also understood that tactics and strategy had to be adjusted to the situation and not imposed on it. He knew when to fight and when to negotiate, so when the movement decided to engage with the apartheid regime in negotiations, Comrade Joe was in the first ANC team at Groote Schuur. He threw his weight behind the process and fought vigorously and effectively to fasten the kinds of compromise which were needed to take us forward.

In due course we will adopt a new constitution ... from the details that Joe has had to capture, to democratic, majority rule. We are supremely confident that the constitution which the ANC has designed will essentially be part of the constitution of this country. That constitution must mirror the hopes and aspirations of the people who gave us apartheid rule and we will allow no force whatsoever, either in this country or elsewhere, to stop us from passing a constitution which contains those hopes and aspirations.

It is therefore all the more timely and fitting for us to pay tribute to Joe for his tenacity, his involvement, his creativity. The final constitution will be a living monument to his tireless efforts. He understood that our tripartite alliance was of fundamental importance. He knew that the durability of the alliance, of the ANC and the SA Communist Party, lay in strengthening such an independent formation and in securing their co-operation on a voluntary basis. Joe's own life exemplifies that relationship. His greatness lay in his success, enabling each of these two organisations individually and both of them together. The continuing freedom of our tripartite alliance is a living monument to his work and that of his other communists like Moses Mabida, Bram Fischer, J B Marks, Yusuf Dadoo and others.

Comrades and friends, we have converged here to pay tribute once again to one who remained in the country and died with his boots on. He brought his immense fund of accumulated political experience to the challenge of housing the nation. He was in the forefront of the drive to build a partnership of government and other social structures to improve the quality of life of our people. That strategy and the new patriotism which it uses is a living monument to Joe's dedication to modernise the nation so that poverty should be eliminated from our land.

Comrade Helena and family, the entire nation is grateful for the way you supported another comrade. Not even once did you discourage him from executing his duty because of poor health. You were ready to serve him with us even as he fought such a cruel disease that was taking his life, take his last and courageous breath.

We who are gathered here after the ... to which Joe dedicated his life were .... to whom he has handed the task that he carried for so long. The race will continue until we have achieved a better life for all our people. This headstone symbolises all the ways in which Joe Slovo has entered into the life of our nation, when ... to redeem our ... to make South Africa a better place for all our people. Rest in peace in the full knowledge that your life's work has slowly but surely become a reality.

I thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.