The occasion of the 7th Annual Peace, Safety and Human Rights Memorial Lecture at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg, on 17 October 2012 was a revelation of contrasts and similarities between the two stalwarts who were being tributed on the night.
The late Abdullah Omar, commonly known as Dullar Omar, is a celebrated and revered political giant, whose name and memory are ingrained in the history of the struggle for freedom in South Africa, one of the legendary leaders of the governing African National Congress and the first Justice Minister of a democratic South Africa. By contrast, Joe Moabi, or Bra Joe to some, is an unsung hero of the same struggle, but a revolutionary giant nonetheless. Not widely known in the South African public sphere, but a familiar name within the circles of the Pan African Congress, a party he served loyally as Treasurer-General while in exile.
But then again, Dulla and Joe were so much alike. They shared a common dedication to the fight against injustice and oppression and dedicated their lives to the service of the country and its people.
Similarly, they both were dedicated family men, loving husbands, fathers and grandfathers; as evidenced by the moving tributes delivered respectively by Dullah’s sister, Rahmat Omar and Joe’s eldest and only daughter, Nana Pheto.
When delivering the welcome address during the memorial lecture, Unisa Pro Vice-Chancellor and the lecture’s sponsor, Prof Narend Baijnath spoke of men who “epitomised unwavering commitment to human rights, fairness and integrity; and whose fervent and compassionate service to the poor and those marginalised by circumstances of inequity and oppression continue to inspire us all”.
He told the audience that the memorial lecture was an occasion to remember the invaluable contribution of these two sons of the nation and to ‘contemplate the many fault lines of rampant greed, corruption, crime, violence and social alienation that tear at the fabric of our fragile democracy’.
‘It is clear that the task we have is to maintain a robust defence of our constitutional democracy. We need, as Mamphele Ramphele asserts, a ‘shift from being subjects to citizens’, and to be ready to take charge as actors and activists to shape the future we desire for ourselves’, he added.
Delivering the memorial lecture under the topic ‘Moral citizenship in 21st Century South Africa’, COSATU firebrand Zwelinzima Vavi said that he was honoured to do so in memory of a leader once described by Nelson Mandela as ‘a pillar of strength to those who were incarcerated on Robben Island, and a true lawyer of the people’.
He applauded Unisa for joining the ranks of those who continue to honour the unsung heroes and heroines of the struggle for liberation.
According to Vavi, the best way South Africa could honour the likes of Dullah, Bra Joe and other martyrs of the struggle was the eradication of corruption in our society and to ensure that the country continues in its march to achieve the ideals of the Freedom Charter.
He decried the oft-repeated fact that, 18 years into the historic political breakthrough, South Africa had still not made similar strides in the economic transformation of our society.
“Not only have we not achieved any of the goals outlined in the Freedom Charter, but we face a triple crisis of growing unemployment, poverty and inequality, each of which in many respects is worse than in 1994”, he said.
Vavi further added that all these problems are made worse by parallel crises of corruption and crime, squandering of public resources and woeful incompetence, which he said hit the headlines almost daily.
Amongst the issues he raised as cause for concern were the e-tolling saga, the textbook crisis as well as the rise in violent protests in the labour and civil circles.
He said he was concerned that more and more people seem to think that the route to greater equality is to help themselves to more money illegally, through manipulating tenders or other corrupt devices in get-rich-quick schemes.
He emphasised that every South African has a duty to ensure the restructuring of the entire structure of the South African society, which he says systematically and deliberately produces beggars and slaves to poverty.
‘We can no longer continue to be spectators in a game that will ultimately determine our future’, he concluded.
*Written by Martin Ramotshela