Eulogy by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma at the funeral of the former Minister of Health and former Minister in The Presidency, Dr Mantombazana Tshabalala-Msimang

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Pretoria

22 December 2009

Comrade Mendi Msimang and the family and relatives,
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe,
Ministers, Premiers, Deputy Ministers and MECs,
Ministers from within SADC and other foreign dignitaries present,
ANC Officials, Members of the National Executive Committee as well as the Veterans, Women and Youth Leagues,
SACP and Cosatu leadership,
Father Phumlani Masuku,
Fellow South Africans,
On the 16th of December, we paid a special tribute to the heroes of our struggle who left home and ventured into foreign lands to take forward the struggle for freedom.
We paid tribute to men and women who decided that much more needed to be done to pressurize the apartheid state into capitulation.
Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is amongst those self-less South Africans, who have experienced minimal joy in their lives, due to their decision not to surrender until this country and its people were free from racist oppression.

The first phase of our struggle, to free the country from bondage was won in 1994.

Together, under the leadership of the ANC government, we then established a new Republic of South Africa. We introduced one sovereign, democratic State founded on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

It is a South Africa that espouses non-racialism and non-sexism, the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

The Bill of Rights in our Constitution enshrines the rights of all and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

This is the freedom that we fought for. That is the freedom that our stalwarts such as Dr Tshabala-Msimang sacrificed life's comforts for.

In 1994, armed with our progressive Constitution as a basis of our democracy, we began the second phase of our struggle.

We had to begin to undo the legacy of apartheid and colonialism, which had condemned black people to abject poverty and suffering.

Dr Tshabalala-Msimang has always been a part of that tireless pursuit of meaningful change, and the improvement of the quality of life of all, especially the poorest of the poor.

She served diligently in various positions including chairperson of the portfolio committee of health in parliament, as Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and later as Minister of Health and l Minister in the Presidency until early 2009.

Today we are called upon not just to mourn her passing, but to celebrate a life that has unreservedly been dedicated to serving this country and its people.
Comrade Manto touched our lives in her various capacities, as a comrade, a dedicated medical doctor, a distinguished servant of the people, a gender activist and a humanitarian.

We say with no fear of contradiction, that she remains an undisputed hero of our struggle, who dedicated her life to the ideal of a free and democratic South Africa.

Some of her fiercest critics cannot claim to have achieved even a quarter of what she has contributed to this country.

Caring, warm, always prone to teasing others, kind-hearted and intellectually capable, she made her mark in the ANC wherever she lived and worked.
From Tanzania to Botswana to South Africa, she used her skills to assist those in distress, those in need of medical care and those in need of emotional support.

Our Constitution directs us to build a non-sexist society, and she did well on our behalf, in this regard.

As a Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, she spearheaded legislation and programmes aimed at improving the status of women.
She worked tirelessly to make the courts in our country understand the elements of domestic violence as a crime.

She is also widely credited for the campaign of 16 Days of Activism against women and child abuse, marked by the country each November-December.
As Minister of Health, she continued with improving the lives of women and children. She uplifted child and maternal health, which were her special interests.

She promoted massive child immunization programmes around the country, to ensure that children were safe from polio, measles and other preventable diseases.

In recognition of her work in the continent, she was appointed the African Union Goodwill Ambassador and Champion for Africa's Movement to improve Maternal Health and promote Child Development in Africa, beyond 2015.

Her commitment to the rights and well-being of children also saw her actively take on the custom of ukuthwala in the Eastern Cape last year, raising awareness of the abduction of young girls who were then forced into marriage.
This she did as Minister in the Presidency in 2008, responsible for children, women and persons with disabilities.

Fellow congregants,

We are gathered here to bid our sister, mother, friend, colleague and comrade a fond, patriotic and comradely farewell.

We are here to register our sincere appreciation of her contribution to the struggle for freedom, and her role in improving the quality of life of our people.
Indeed, a lot of the work she did during her tenure as Health Minister remains hidden, as it was not controversial enough to make it to the media.

Through her leadership of the health department, many remote rural areas and townships have clinics that did not exist before 1994.
Our free primary health care services were expanded and 1,600 more clinics were built in the past few years.

She worked hard to combat malaria, a passion she developed while working in exile. As a member of the SADC Health Ministers committee she contributed meaningfully to the joint SADC action plan on Malaria.

She led from the front in promoting the management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.

The provision of affordable generic medicines became a reality and was supported as a programme during her tenure as Minister of Health.

Many of our health care professionals would testify about her outstanding efforts to stem the emigration of doctors and nurses out of our country.
She took on many developed countries that are hell-bent on poaching our scarce skills.

Many medical interns now stay on in rural areas voluntarily, realizing the need as well as the experience they gain from working in these remote health centres.

Many of us now take it for granted that our public areas are free of tobacco smoke.

It is through our determined Health Ministers such as Drs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, that we were able to remove the hazards of tobacco in public areas and improve public health.
That many of her achievements were not highlighted and recognized in her lifetime is sad and unfortunate.

But today is not a day for recrimination or blame. It is not a day to look backwards and think of what should have been.

It is a day for us to unite and celebrate the selfless and patriotic contribution of a great South African, and a distinguished African.
It is a day for us to spend time reflecting on those achievements that we know best, as her friends, colleagues and comrades, including her work in the fight against AIDS.

On the 1st of December this year we announced new far-reaching measures to take the fight against AIDS forward.

We announced new treatment measures, and also emphasized that prevention remains our biggest weapon in the fight against AIDS.

We stated then, and reiterate today, that we are building on the work that had been done by the previous three democratic administrations led by Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Motlanthe.

Comrade Manto served under all three Presidents.
It must be placed on record that despite the controversies in the media, it was during her tenure as Health Minister, that South Africa developed a comprehensive five year HIV and AIDS plan, and put impressive systems in place for the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Government expenditure on HIV and AIDS has increased substantially during the terms of the first three democratic administrations and has grown in each subsequent fiscal year.

At the time of World Aids Day last year, 93% of public health facilities were able to offer voluntary counseling and HIV testing.

By the end of September 2008, around 600,000 people had been initiated for anti-retroviral treatment. That figure has now increased to more than 700,000, making it one of the biggest programmes in the world.

By the end of last year, over 400 facilities had been accredited to provide anti-retroviral treatment in the public sector.

All these programmes, including a massive national prevention campaign, were rolled out under her leadership.

It is unfortunate that our country has developed a culture of dwelling on the negative and turning a blind eye to achievements.

It is something we need to address quite seriously, in order not to undermine our nation's progress and successes.

In honour of Comrade Manto, we must intensify the fight against poverty and hunger. We must prioritise nutrition programmes and promote the general health and wellbeing of our people.

As she correctly pointed out, despite being ridiculed, most medication, especially anti-retroviral drugs, should not be taken on empty stomachs, in order to improve their effectiveness.

As we prepare for the roll-out of expanded access to treatment in April next year, we will ensure a comprehensive approach, including nutrition, in our response to HIV and AIDS.

Fellow congregants and compatriots,
We have lost a spirited and consummate activist and a pioneer health professional who championed the rights of the poor.

We have lost a resilient activist, a gallant fighter for the rights of women and children, a fighter for justice and freedom.

We have lost a hard working servant of the people who as Minister, went everywhere possible in the country, including the continent, to ensure the success of health programmes.

As Government we extend our sincere condolences to the ANC and its Alliance partners on the loss of a stalwart and dedicated cadre of the movement.

We also extend our condolences to Parliament on losing a longstanding dedicated member.

To Comrade Mendi Msimang, our hearts go out to you and family during this difficult period. Lalani ngenxeba, duduzekani.

As she undertakes her last journey, she should now finally be accorded the right to human dignity, which she fought for, during most of her life.

May her soul rest in peace.

I thank you