President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the euology at Jackson Mthembu's funeral on Sunday. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the euology at Jackson Mthembu's funeral on Sunday. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS

Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu, who was honoured with an official funeral reserved for members of the executive on Sunday, was described as a selfless public servant and principled politician who put the country first.

Mthembu, appointed a minister by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 and among those at the forefront of communicating the government’s strategy on Covid-19, succumbed to the virus on Thursday at age 62.

Ramaphosa announced the official category 1 funeral for Mthembu on Friday and said national flags across the country would be flown at half-mast. Mthembu was buried in his hometown of Emalahleni in Mpumalanga.

A memorial service will be held on Monday where Deputy President David Mabuza will deliver the keynote tribute.

Mthembu’s death comes as the country is battling a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and after more than 1.4-million people have been infected by the disease and 40,000 have lost their lives. In December, Ramaphosa reintroduced stricter measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Delivering the eulogy at the funeral, Ramaphosa described Mthembu, who chaired the national planning commission, as a principled person and a man of great courage.

“He was an honest man who never hesitated to speak up for what he believed to be right, no matter the cost to him personally. His greatest loyalty was reserved for this country and its people,” the president said.

“When it comes to corruption [and] abuse of power, he was never deceived by the false smiles and empty promises of those who sought to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor … he called them out.”

Mthembu, who had previously served as the ANC’s chief whip in parliament, was meant to testify at the state capture commission in the next few weeks about his time in the position during former president Jacob Zuma’s administration.  

Speaking at the funeral, Mthembu’s daughter, Thuli Mthembu, described her father as a “literal breath of fresh air”.

“Your love will continue to hold us together,” she said. 

A number of Mthembu’s colleagues in government and the ANC paid tribute to the minister on Sunday.

Mineral resources & energy minister and ANC national chair Gwede Mantashe, one of the programme directors at the funeral, said it was beginning to sink in that Mthembu was no more.

“The ANC is poorer, the country is poorer and Mpumalanga is poorer,” Mantashe, who was the party’s secretary-general when Mthembu was national spokesperson, said.

National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise, who also spoke at the funeral, said they had lost a good leader who represented the masses.

Speaking before the funeral, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina, who took over the position from Mthembu, said the party had lost a mentor and a leader who spoke truth to power.

“We are going to continue with the fight where he left off. He fought against corruption; we are not going to shy away, irrespective of who does it.”

Former ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza, who worked closely with Mthembu during his time as chief communicator for the party, described him as a good communicator who was able to tell SA the decisions of the ANC “without covering up anything”.

Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane commended Mthembu’s “unquestionable integrity” and for being an invaluable asset to the governing party and the country he had served “until the last moments of his life”.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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