Joe left the world a `better place'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Tumultuous crowds of black South Africans gave a hero's burial yesterday to Joe Slovo, President Nelson Mandela's closest white ally and adviser within the African National Congress as they negotiated for their country's new non-racist democracy.

Borne on a gun carriage, Slovo's body made its last journey through Soweto in a plain wooden coffin draped with the flag of the new South Africa. The late chairman of the South African Communist Party was lowered into the ground in Heroes' Acre at the township's Avalon cemetery, where he joined veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Joseph to become only the second white person to be honoured with burial there.

Order broke down briefly when thousands of people charged forward, including youths with clubs, whips, spears, shields and even AK-47 rifles. But, as in other memorial ceremonies around the country, the atmosphere was more in celebration of Slovo's extraordinary life than of mourning for his death, aged 68, from bone- marrow cancer on 6 January.

The pandemonium kept President Mandela from attending at the graveside, where Slovo's second wife, Helena, chose to speak about his love of wine, women and song, and the red socks he wore as an emblem of his Communist beliefs.

Many happier symbols of reconciliation were on show at a farewell ceremony at Soweto's simple Orlando Stadium. The ANC choir sang Die Stem, the Afrikaans national anthem, as township youths crowded on to the backs of police armoured cars. And next to President Mandela sat Pik Botha, the Minister of Energy, who was once Foreign Minister.

"The defenders of national oppression could not understand why Slovo would seek to end the dominance of his racial kith and kin," said Mr Mandela "But Joe's kin was all humanity, especially the very poor."

The immigrant from Lithuania was accepted as a leader by black South Africans in a mythical way that other white men may find hard to follow. He even led the ANC military wing which accorded him its highest honour, the title Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe (Hewho wears the leopard skin).

"He identified himself to such an extent with the black masses that he seemed to me to be our Moses. He was a believing unbeliever," said an Anglican priest, Mandla Sibeko, watching the stadium ceremony from among 30,000 activists waving ANC banners as well as Communist red flags. "Joe Slovo was white, but really he was black, pitch black," said Tandy Skosana, a saleswoman. "He was the only one we could trust 100 per cent."

South Africa's Chief Rabbi, Cyril Harris, joined in the tributes, saying Mr Slovo's compassion had roots in his Jewishness. "Let not those religious people who identified with the evils of yesteryear condemn him. The world is a better place, thanks to Joe."