Ben Turok. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Ben Turok. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

President Cyril Ramaphosa has described antiapartheid activist Ben Turok as a principled freedom fighter and humble patriot of SA.

Turok, a former ANC MP, was among the first struggle stalwarts to openly criticise former president Jacob Zuma’s controversial leadership of SA. He died on Monday, aged 92.

Ramaphosa said he is deeply saddened by the loss of an “outstanding yet humble patriot of our nation” and commended Turok’s “enormous personal sacrifices, which helped us attain our freedom”.

“He was a principled freedom fighter, dedicated to nonracialism and the unity of our nation and of our liberation movement. He was a true democrat and servant of our people who stood up to injustice, corruption and the abuse of public office both during our struggle and into the democratic dispensation,” the president said.

He said Turok conducted himself in accordance with the values of the constitution and made invaluable contributions to debates on “questions of national importance”.

Underground leadership

Turok was an economics professor and served as an MP from 1995 to 2014. He was arrested in 1962 under the Explosives Act and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Pretoria before being placed under house arrest.

Turok, who spent more than two decades in exile before returning to SA in 1990, was the only surviving member of the original underground leadership of the SA Communist Party (SACP).

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said Turok dedicated his life to the struggle against racism and oppression.

“Together with his wife, Mary Turok, and other comrades of his generation, comrade Ben Turok rejected the privilege and comforts of the apartheid system that could have accrued to him on the basis of his skin colour,” said Magashule. “He chose instead to fight on the side of the oppressed masses.”

Good relationships

IFP chief whip Narend Singh said Turok’s humility and wisdom were “by far what he will be most fondly remembered for”.

Singh commended Turok’s ability to foster good relationships across the political spectrum, singling out the relationship he had with the late IFP MP Mario Ambrosini.

“Strongly speaking out and standing against his own party’s proposals in the Protection of State Information Bill saga [in] 2013 is one of many examples which showed his love of democratic choice and principles in protecting the rights and freedoms of all South Africans above all else,” he said.

COPE president Mosiuoa Lekota said: “His death is a terrible loss. He was a dedicated freedom fighter. We have lost a great South African, a giant among his peers.”

UDM general secretary Bongani Msomi said Turok’s passing is a loss to the nation. “We remember him as one of our struggle stalwarts who fought for freedom. We send our condolences to his family.”

Turok leaves behind his wife, Mary, and their children, Ivan, Fred and Neil.

“He was always outspoken and dedicated his whole life to fighting for freedom, equality and social justice in SA. He was a loyal, lifetime member of the ANC but retained an independent perspective throughout,” his family said in a statement.

The family said Turok asked for his death to be marked by a private ceremony, “rather than anything official or formal, in view of the present predicament facing the country”.

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