A tale of two funerals

Posted on April 8, 2011


There were two funerals last Saturday that caused consternation within the ranks of Cosatu, but for very different reasons. Both were attended by large numbers of mourners, both featured coffins draped in the flag of the ANC, a flag handed, with militaristic pomp, over to the families of the deceased by detachments from the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA). But that was where the similarity ended.

The one funeral — in Cape Town — received considerable media coverage; the other, although much bigger and an official event in Johannesburg, very little. “This seems to show the skewed priorities of the mass media,” notes Cosatu spokesperson, Patrick Craven.

He points out that much more media prominence was given to a reputed gangster linked to the sleazy world of strip clubs and human trafficking than to a founding member of the ANC Youth League, former treason trialist and deputy secretary-general of the ANC. This despite the fact that the funeral in Johannesburg of Henry — “Squire” — Makgothi, was an official event with President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe among a plethora of political leaders in attendance.

The funeral in Cape Town that received much more publicity was for Cyril Beeka, widely regarded as something of a godfather to the drug-dealing gangs of the Cape Flats such as the Americans and the Sexy Boys. He was gunned down, gangland style, at the age of 49. Leading members of both gangs were among his mourners at the city’s Plumstead cemetery.

But while the media has come in for criticism, most union anger is directed at the fact that Beeka’s funeral was conducted as if it was an official ANC event. “It was entirely inappropriate for the ANC flag to be used in this way,” says Cosatu regional secretary and Cape Town’s ANC mayoral hopeful, Tony Ehrenreich.

“The formal use of the flag is for people who have made a profound contribution to the liberation of South Africa. It is for those who side with the poor and not for those associated with criminality and drugs,” he adds.

Ehrenreich and other ANC and Cosatu members are now calling for those responsible for “this travesty” to be “held to account”. However, inquiries as to who made the decision to have an MKMVA detachment conduct a formal ceremony, complete with a bugled rendition of the Last Post, continue to draw a blank.

But the association of the ANC with Beeka is already proving to be a liability as the May 18 local government elections loom. “I am horrified,” says a confessed “ANC stalwart” and former Robben Island prisoner.

Beeka, an apartheid era impimpi, did, however, have some links to the ANC in that he worked as a courier for the liberation movement in the final years of the previous regime, apparently as a “double agent”. In the new dispensation, he became an informer for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) while playing a dominant role offering “protection” and doing deals in the murky underworld of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

He was an associate of strip club czar Lolly Jackson and the Ukranian gangster Yuri — “The Russian” — Ulianitski, both of whom were gunned down in reputed gangland “hits”. But he was also acknowledged as a friend by Secret Service chief Mo Shaik and was known for distributing largesse to a wide range of individuals and organisations. As a result, his was a funeral where gangsters rubbed shoulders with NIA agents, Hell’s Angels members and Springbok rugby players James Dalton and Percy Montgomery.

At Henry Makgothi’s funeral, held both at Marks Park in Emmarentia and at the West Park Cemetery, more than 2 000 mourners heard speeches from President Jacob Zuma, the ANCYL, the MKMVA, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane and ANC veteran and former ambassador to Switzerland, Ruth Mompati.

From a political viewpoint, some of the statements made — in particular the apology “to the President and the nation” by the ANCYL representative — were extremely important. But, noticeably absent among the speakers — and to the chagrin of Cosatu — was anybody from the labour federation. Also absent was a speaker from the SA Communist Party that Makgothi joined when it was formed in 1953.

“Cosatu was invited, but then we were told that, because it was an official funeral, there would be no alliance speakers,” says Craven. This has annoyed many Cosatu members who expected that deputy president Zingiswe Lozi would bid a union farewell to the son of one of the founding members of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union, and to a man who had devoted his life to “working class struggles”.

Lozi’s speech was written, but neither circulated nor delivered. In it, she noted that Makgothi was a role model who “embodied everything that we believe in, but which we are in danger of forgetting, as we are increasingly tempted to join the race to get rich”.

Her speech also stressed the need “to get rid of the culture of greed and self-enrichment at the people’s expense and build a public service which exists solely to serve the public”. There was, she added, “clearly a massive and widespread growth of the cancer of crime and corruption within our public service and state-owned enterprises”.

As such, her undelivered speech chimed in well with what was said by Mompati in her funeral oration where she talked of “the monster that is devouring our values”. Mompati also complimented Gauteng ANCYL deputy chair, Simon Molefe, for apologising for some of the recent behaviour of ANCYL members.

Molefe noted that many individuals joined the youth league only to advance their careers in business and government. He asked that the ANC “help us to solve our problems”.

That the problems exist is an open secret that official pronouncements all too often try to sweep under a carpet of proclaimed unanimity. But, as one veteran unionist noted: “It is a really sad commentary when a gangster is given greater prominence than a genuine hero of the struggle for equality and human dignity.”