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President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the funeral of ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in Joburg on Sunday. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN
President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the funeral of ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte in Joburg on Sunday. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE/SOWETAN

The line between party and state has been blurred on many fronts in SA, to the country’s great detriment. And it is fair to ask whether this plays out in decisions by the president to accord state or official funerals to those who have made a contribution to the nation.

State funerals are the highest category of funeral in the manual on government’s state, official and provincial funeral policy, which stipulates the beneficiaries of these and of official funerals (the second-highest category), according to the position they held.

However, it is at the discretion of the president to decide who gets special official funerals. Funerals in category one are meant for individuals of “extraordinary credentials”, as designated by the president. Those of category two are for “distinguished” persons.

The manual also deals with issues such as the conduct of memorial services, flying the national flag at half-mast, lying in state and the declaration of days of mourning. The state bears the reasonable costs of all these categories of funerals.

The issue is that the president of SA is also the president of the ruling ANC, which is why it’s important to ask whether he makes appropriate use of his discretion in deciding who has been extraordinary or distinguished in their contribution to the nation. He not only has ANC members as his constituency but society as a whole.

A recent example of the exercise of this discretion was President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to accord former ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte a special official funeral category two, for a distinguished person. Before her death on Sunday, Duarte had held her ANC position for 10 years and it was in this capacity that she was generally known.

A government statement announcing Ramaphosa’s decision to grant Duarte a state funeral noted that she was a long-time anti-apartheid activist who served as special assistant to Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu; that she served as Gauteng MEC for safety and security from 1994 to 1998; and that she acted as SA’s ambassador to Mozambique from 1999 to 2003. She also served as chief operating officer in the presidency.

But the president’s decision will not necessarily have gone down well with everyone, especially given Duarte’s more recent role as a fierce defender of former president Jacob Zuma.

Members of political parties other than the ANC might well question whether she was accorded the funeral privilege primarily because of her prominence as a ruling party official. Not all anti-apartheid activists, MECs or ambassadors get the same treatment though admittedly Duarte occupied all three roles, albeit briefly in the case of her state rather than party posts. As the DA saw it, Duarte’s official funeral is just another way for the bankrupt ANC to siphon off state resources to serve its own interests.

Obviously there is an overlap between national heroes and ANC heroes, given SA’s history of political struggle against the apartheid regime. Mandela, Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were all heroes who merited state funerals of one sort or another. Tutu was given a special official funeral in category one, for those with extraordinary credentials.

Ramaphosa has to walk a thin line, balancing his role as president of the country and president of the ANC. The line has become even finer after the Zondo commission highlighted the collapse of the difference between party and state and the role that collapse played in state capture. This was especially apparent in the implementation of the party’s cadre deployment policy which the commission ruled illegal and unconstitutional and which aided and abetted the looting of the state.

Government’s manual on state funerals needs to be tightened up to provide clear guidance on what constitutes extraordinary or distinguished service to the nation, and by what criteria the president should award the two categories of funeral within his  discretion. More importantly, this discretion needs to be used in an objective and even-handed manner, to ensure it recognises service to  society at large and not to a single party or interest group.  This service should be generally recognised by society at large.

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