Farther Michael Weeder
Family Members of the late Comrade Johnny Issel;
Comrades and friends;
I would first like to express my heartfelt condolences to the Issel family over the loss of their beloved father, comrade John James Issel.
Although no one can pretend to fully understand the extent of your pain, I would like you to note that your loss is our loss.
Comrade Johnny was part of a broader family called the African National Congress (ANC).
It is no easy thing bearing the pain of losing a father figure in the family.
However the Issel family would know only too well that comrade Johnnyís struggle did not end with the casting of the democratic vote in 1994.
His sense of justice was not numbed by the burst of euphoria that accompanied our democratic moment.
I am sure I am echoing the sentiments of many, both in the Western Cape, and across the length and breadth of our country, when I state that, the death of comrade Johnny Issel is a loss to the cause of human freedom.
In real terms comrade Johnny Isselís life manifested the reality that humanity was meant to be free and that there is nothing in nature forbidding the flower of freedom from blooming in its full glory.
Comrade Johnny thus lived every minute of his life agonising about apartheid conditions and the devastating impact they had on the lives of oppressed South Africans.
In pursuit of this vision he laboured hard, from a very young age, to bring about the eradication of apartheid in its totality.
Sparing no effort, he went all out galvanising various sections of society, including trade unions, youth, women, religious sectors, the business sector, and many others, to stand up and be counted in the great historical march to liberation.
Given this extent of his contribution to a democratic South Africa, it follows that the death of comrade Johnny leaves a void in all of us.
It leaves a void in the flowering new nation called South Africa to whose construction he dedicated all his life.
Comrades and friends,
Once again, the icy hand of death has snatched one of our most revered leaders from our midst, leaving us the poorer for it.
Comrade Johnny Issel, a time-tested revolutionary of our movement, has passed on, leaving us with the task of realising the dreams he had cherished all his life.
Along with many others of his generation, comrade Johnny has, during his lifetime, done his part, with assiduity.
He did his part driven by high ideals as espoused by his movement, the ANC.
Accordingly, the ANC, the vehicle for the expression of his aspirations, provided him with a lifelong frame of reference to make sense of his world.
So, central to his vision were the basic tenets that would one day underlie democratic South Africaís constitution and the values it advocates.
Naturally, most of comrade Isselís generation, including the generation before his, is fading out, succumbing to the unrelenting force of nature.
As it is to be expected, this leaves a yawning gap in our lives, and perhaps we should draw solace from the truth that their imprints on the sands of time are forever preserved by the epochal April 1994 Democratic election.
The 1994 moment represented a historical absolution which could be literally seen as historyís ringing endorsement of the vision of comrade Issel and the Mass Democratic Movement.
Indeed he helped light the way to the democratic future when he, together with others, founded the United Democratic Front (UDF), an organisation that would mobilise the entire society behind the vision of non-racialism.
In some instances a case can be made that decades of exacting struggle have taken a toll on most comrades of these two generations.
In much the same way one can also contend that comrade Johnny Issel was worn down by these untiring efforts over the years.
His commitment to the struggle for liberation knew no bounds, and many can testify to his varied roles in the struggle.
We have benefited immensely from comrade Isselís generation, which invariably sacrificed a lifetime of personal benefits to bring about a united, non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic South Africa.
It is a generation that stands on the shoulders of giants such as: OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander, Oscar Mpetha and Govan Mbeki, among others.
Comrade Isselís generation had accepted the baton from this earlier generation and, at a great cost to their persons, worked themselves into the ground with no prospect of personal gain.
Not surprisingly, most of comrade Isselís generation are not as well known today because they had preferred the drudgery of ground work to aspirations of leadership.
In fact, as and when he accepted a position of leadership he did so because his immense experience was called forth at the time.
Coming from an enlightened generation that spoke its mind on all weighty matters without reserve, comrade Johnny pulled no punches when he discerned perversion of our values in the democratic South Africa.
As a representative of the age old values that underpinned our struggle for years, he could not keep a stiff upper lip in the face of sporadic incidents of greed and corruption by some of the cadres of the movement he loved dearly.
In this regard, he questioned those who sought to profiteer from a democratic South Africa at the expense of the masses of our people.
In the same vein, he lamented the crass materialism and the heartless value system of individualism discernable in some social quarters in post-apartheid South Africa.
To this end he submitted that: "In our market society [today] everyone looks out for himself - and only himself. Nobody is his brother's keeper. Very different from the tenets held and forged during the camaraderie of the '80s."
He went on to state that: "The new values emerging within our nascent democracy are at the opposite pole of those prevalent during the times of the UDF."
As a moral conscience and a veteran of our struggle, comrade Isselís words echo the abiding perspective in our movement that above all else we should remain seized with the pivotal task of creating a better life for our people.
When incorruptible men and women of comrade Johnnyís calibre do die they leave behind a noticeable gap which is most acutely felt during critical moments of a peopleís life.
The constructive criticism he offers above is one among many qualities of comrade Johnny Issel that we will all miss in the fullness of time.
We should all take a leaf from comrade Isselís principled life. This is especially so in the Western Cape, where there is a great need to build unity among our people.
Among others, comrade Issel rejected racialism and ethnicity in all their variations, knowing that all such fissures are but an artifice to divide the oppressed.
Guided by his conscience, comrade Issel rejected greed out of hand, inspired by the historical task of poverty eradication among all our people.
He eschewed factionalism as a virulent strain that has the potential to eat away at the vitals of the ANC, not least here in the Western Cape.
At some point in his life he adopted Marxism as the advanced theoretical model not only to explain the wrongs of society but also to guide society out of its difficulties.
As an activist he advanced political education among the rank and file of the ANC.
He clearly understood the importance of an informed and independent mind capable of both grasping and dissecting complex social phenomena.
In like manner, we should ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to orientate the membership of the ANC to the principles, values and character of the ANC.
We can only live out our values if we know them, understand their meaning and appreciate where they come from and the difficult conditions under which they were conceived.
In other words, as a people with a particularly noxious history of racial oppression whose residual smell is still hovering above the democratic South Africa, we cannot take for granted our hard-earned freedom.
At the same time, our own history obliges us to uphold the legacy of comrade Johnny Issel and his generation.
It is a legacy that cannot only find expression in glib speeches on odd occasions.
It is a legacy that needs to be lived minute by minute through improved social relations, better economic outlook for our people and matured political system to guide our nation to a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and just future.
On this account, let me state clearly that I consider myself privileged to have shared the same time and space with comrade Johnny Issel.
I am privileged to have known this Titan of our struggle of whom our nation is proud.
His life resonates with the memorable mind of Nikolai Ostrovsky on life: quote
'Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past.; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world - the fight for the liberation of mankind.' unquote
(~ Nikolai Ostrovsky - How The Steel Was Tempered)
So, during his last hour, comrade Johnny found peace from the fact that all his life, all his strength was given to the finest cause in the world-the fight for the liberation of humankind.
We salute this esteemed member of the Order of Luthuli.
May his soul rest in peace!
I thank you.