South Africa

FUNERAL

Family, friends and political leaders honour the memory of ANC’s Jessie Duarte

Family, friends and political leaders honour the memory of ANC’s Jessie Duarte
Jessie Duarte’s casket is covered by the South African flag as President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses mourners at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on 17 July 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

A dedicated, determined leader; a passionate activist and feminist; a loving mother, grandmother and sister. This is how long-serving ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte was remembered at her funeral on Sunday afternoon. Duarte died in the early hours of that morning after a battle with cancer.

The funeral of South African leader and activist Jessie Duarte saw family, friends and political leaders gather at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on Sunday, 17 July. The ceremony celebrated the life and achievements of the long-serving ANC deputy secretary-general (DSG), who died in the early hours that morning.

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ANC Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile (right) beside President Cyril Ramaphosa at the funeral service of Jessie Duarte at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on 17 July 2022. Duarte’s family are to their right. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

In the eulogy delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Duarte was described as a “faithful, dedicated and fiercely loyal leader” of the ANC. She served as the party’s deputy secretary-general for almost 10 years, and as a member of the National Executive Council for 25 years.

“Although our beloved comrade Jessie has been gravely ill for several months, it is difficult to comprehend that someone with such vitality and such spirit has departed this earth,” said Ramaphosa.

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Jessie Duarte’s casket is led to her final resting place in West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg on 17 July 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“It is difficult to imagine the ANC without our beloved DSG, and to think that we will never again hear her voice and her laughter carrying down the corridors of Luthuli House.”

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Mourners moments before Jessie Duarte is laid to rest on 17 July 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Ramaphosa designated Duarte’s funeral as a Special Official Funeral Category 2. Others who spoke at the ceremony included Duarte’s granddaughter Kirstin Whitley; Duarte’s brother Zane Dangor, who was the family representative; ANC Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile; and Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

Read in Daily Maverick: ANC’s Jessie Duarte has died

Politics and activism

When growing up in the township of Newclare, Johannesburg, Duarte was surrounded by a family that valued ideas and books, said Whitley. This was the root of the activism that would later lead her to become involved in the black consciousness movement. 

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Gauteng Premier David Makhura ( left) stands beside Paul Mashatile in ANC scarf, second left) and Cyril Ramaphosa (third from left) as they join in the performance of the Islamic funeral prayer. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“By 1979, she already played a leading role in the women’s movement under the mentorship of Mam’ Albertina Sisulu,” said Whitley.

After the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Duarte was among those at the forefront of rebuilding the party, serving as Nelson Mandela’s special assistant between 1990 and 1994.

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A woman wipes her eye as the convoy carrying Jessie Duarte’s body passes her, en route to the West Park Cemetery. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“[Duarte] learnt the politics of liberation from leaders like Mama Albertina Sisulu, Oom Beyers Naudé and Madiba,” said Ramaphosa. “From them she imbibed the qualities of revolutionary leadership — qualities that she was to demonstrate in every position she occupied. Qualities that she was to pass on to future generations of activists.”

Passionate about non-racialism, Duarte was quick to remind her fellow ANC members when the party was failing to uphold this principle, said Makhura.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa leaves the Duarte residence en route to the West Park Cemetery. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“As we talk about renewal, the work we do everywhere else, this fundamental question [is one] that Comrade Jessie would have wanted to be put in the forefront of everything we do. Non-racialism is something we must continue to fight for,” he said.

Mashatile described Duarte as someone with whom there was “no surrender”, adding, “All of you who know her know, she fights. When she believes in an idea, she fights.”

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Bathabile Dlamini (right) and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma leave Jessie Duarte’s Johannesburg house as they make their way to the West Park Cemetery. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Said Ramaphosa: “As we worked with her, some of us got to realise the truism in the saying, ‘Dynamite comes in small packages’. Comrade Jessie was the typical and the quintessential dynamite.”

Rights defender

Throughout her life, Duarte was an organiser of women and a feminist, said Ramaphosa. As secretary of the Federation of Transvaal Women, she built and led a powerful women’s movement that “directly challenged the oppression of black women” and “shook the foundations of the apartheid state”.

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Former Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane leaves the Duarte residence on 17 July 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

“We remember the courage with which she spoke against the abuse of women, not just by the apartheid security forces, but within the ranks of the liberation movement,” said Ramaphosa.

“She confronted the patriarchal attitudes and practices that sought to diminish the role and contribution of women in Parliament and government and across society as a whole. She did not hesitate to confront inadequate representation of women in the structures of the African National Congress itself.”

A key issue that troubled Duarte was the socioeconomic situation and suffering facing many South African people, he continued. She empathised with those who were marginalised and remained committed to the “cause of people”.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Dangor said they were proud of Duarte as a mother, sister and grandmother, and of the contributions she had made to the country.

“Saying that you were among the best of us is not just a slogan, because we have experienced your generosity and support. And indeed for us, you were the best,” he said.

During the funeral, Duarte’s coffin was draped first in an ANC flag, and later a South African flag. Both were folded and presented to the family.

The ANC will hold a memorial service for Duarte on Thursday, 21 July, Mashatile said. DM/MC

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