Eulogy by His Excellency, President Jacob G Zuma on the occasion of the funeral service of struggle veteran and former MP, Sister Bernard Ncube
08 September 2012
The Ncube Family, friends and relatives,
The Premier of Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane,
Honourable Ministers, Deputy Ministers, MECs, Members of Parliament and legislature,
Leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and all other denominations,
Comrades and friends,
Fellow South Africans,
Mokgapa o mogolo o wele! Indeed a heroine has fallen!
We have assembled to bid a fond farewell to Sister Bernard Ncube, a highly regarded heroine and veteran of our struggle for freedom and democracy.
It is truly befitting that we pay our last respects to Sister Bernard at Regina Mundi, a church that is synonymous with our liberation struggle.
Sister Bernard was destined to dedicate her life to others. She gave her life to the church in 1955 when she entered the Companions of Angela religious community. In joining the convent, she demonstrated that she was destined to serve humanity.
When she later joined the struggle for liberation, her family would have realised that their loved one had a calling that was far greater than anything they had imagined.
Sadly, we are bidding farewell to her during a year in which we are celebrating 100 years of selfless struggle.
It is a year of acknowledging the contribution of all who made untold sacrifices for the attainment of the freedom we enjoy today.
Her passing has also brought into sharp focus, the immense contribution and role of the church in the struggle for liberation and human rights in our country.
South Africa produced exceptional men and women of the cloth who fulfilled Biblical scriptures through bravely using the church as a site of struggle to free the people they ministered to.
These leaders included church leaders like Dr Beyers Naude the founder of the Christian Institute, Archbishop Dennis Hurley, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Alan Boesak, Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa and Father Albert Nolan and the Reverends Frank Chikane, Mcebisi Xundu, Michael Lapsley, and of course Sister Bernard Ncube.
The illustrious list also includes Father Trevor Huddlestone, who became a founder member and President of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. He played a critical role in both the World Council of Churches and the SACC to ensure that the church adopted the programme to combat racism.
There are indeed many others, including the Reverend Dr Khoza Mgojo who also sadly passed on during the week.
These progressive clerics realised that we needed a new theology that took into account the deplorable living conditions of the majority and the need for their total liberation from colonial oppression and apartheid.
This was one of the reasons for the establishment of the Institute for Contextual Theology. Sister Bernard worked closely with Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa at the Institute.
We applaud the role played by organisations such as the South African Council of Churches, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, the Institute for Contextual Theology and the World Council of Churches in highlighting the plight of the oppressed and putting pressure on the apartheid regime.
One of their significant interventions was the production of the Kairos Document. This call to churches emphatically rejected the system of apartheid on biblical grounds, and mobilized many of our people to join the struggle on the side of the oppressed.
Life was certainly not easy for liberation theologians as they continued speaking out against injustice and taking the apartheid state head on.
They were castigated by conservative peers who thought differently and were persecuted by the apartheid state machinery.
Sister Bernard felt more pressure as she was a woman and a nun, which brought about its own additional stereotypes and expectations of behaviour.
She defied those stereotypes and became a formidable leader in her own right.
The selfless contribution of these men and women made us truly proud of the role of the faith-based sector and in particular the church, in the struggle for liberation.
Today we also recall the work of Sister Bernard under the auspices of the United Democratic Front.
The UDF revitalised the struggle inside the country, and instilled fear and panic in the apartheid regime, which responded with massive repression including a state of emergency.
The UDF was effective because of the leadership at the helm, of people like Sister Bernard.
Most importantly, we acknowledge the role of Sister Bernard in mainstreaming women and their role in the struggle. As a mobiliser and a skilled community worker, she focused on the social, legal, economic and political status of women.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, she was instrumental in the formation of local women’s organizations in the then Transvaal region. She founded the Federation of Transvaal Women, and later became its President in 1984. The Federation was later affiliated to the UDF.
She was able to link up with the ANC in exile, to relay messages and ensure synergy between what was happening inside the country and externally.
Former ANC President-General Albert Luthuli taught us that the road to freedom is via the cross.
This was truly the case with Sister Bernard. She was detained six times, including once when she spent three months in solitary confinement under the emergency regulations of 1986.
Her case came to international attention, along with that of other detainees Father Mkhatshwa and Zwelakhe Sisulu. She was subsequently freed but was again arrested with a number of others and charged with sedition and subversion; however, the state withdrew the charges when they could not be substantiated.
In March 1981, in the still of the night, three petrol bombs were hurled at the Convent of Our Lady at Kagiso near Krugersdorp, where Sister Bernard was staying with other members of her religious order. The bombs were meant at silencing her, but only one of the bombs exploded.
Despite constant threats and numerous attempts on her life, she poured her heart and energy into her Christian and political work. She continued providing shelter, fighting for quality education for black children in townships, and fighting for the recognition of the rights of black people, and black women in particular.
She continued leading and mentoring many younger women leaders in the liberation struggle.
When freedom dawned, Sister Bernard played a role to build the type of society she had been fighting to bring about. She served as a member of parliament, and also as a mayor.
She chose to be part of the reconstruction of our country, as many in the religious sector continue to be.
Government truly appreciates the role the church continues to play in promoting social development, supporting victims of crime, promoting quality education, advancing the fight against HIV and AIDS and economic transformation to name just a few areas.
We urge the religious sector, in the memory of Sister Bernard, to continue promoting social cohesion and stability in families and communities.
We were truly pleased with the swift response of religious leaders to the tragedy of 44 people who were killed in Marikana last month. The South African Council of Churches has played an important role in comforting the bereaved and in promoting calm and restraint in Marikana, including mediating in the labour dispute. We must note as well that the involvement of the religious sector in Marikana goes beyond this tragedy.
The SACC has through its Bench Marks Foundation, produced a report on the state of the mining sector in the Rustenburg area, which complements our own monitoring and evaluation work a government on the implementation of the Mining Charter.
We cannot achieve transformation or sustainable development working alone.
We are therefore encouraged by the support of the faith-based sector as we continue to build a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
Compatriots, comrades and friends,
We will always remember Sister Bernard as a selfless citizen who did not seek accolades, regardless of her personal achievements and the positive impact she made in the lives of others.
She touched our lives in different ways. The tears we shed and the sense of helplessness we feel, are a direct result of the void her passing has left in our lives.
To the Ncube family, there are no words to express how grateful we are to have shared our journey to freedom with the one you love.
Sister Bernard Ncube will forever have a special place in the hearts of our people.
On behalf of government and the people of South Africa, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Ncube family, relatives and friends.
To Sister Bernard, “you have fought a good fight, you have finished the race and you have kept the faith’’. (Timothy 4: verse 7-8)
Lala ngoxolo Mzilankatha!
May your soul rest in peace!
I thank you.