Address by Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the tombstone of Comrade Joe Slovo, Avalon Cemetery -  Johannesburg

4 May 1996

Members of the Slovo Family;
Cabinet Ministers;
Leadership of the Tri-partite alliance;
Comrade and Friends.

When the ANC held its electoral victory celebrations at the Carlton Centre on the night of 2 May 1994, I had a touch of flu. But I defied my doctor's orders and attended, for I could not miss the function when the trumpets sounded the salute to freedom. Joe Slovo was there too. It was a moment we could not miss. And so we were all together to savour the joy that the cause for which so many perished, was coming to fruition.

The beam on Joe's face that night - let alone his agility on the dance floor - will remain with me for a long time. We knew that the bone marrow cancer was starting to take its toll. But Joe rose above the illness, and together we all danced the night away.

When I asked him to take up the Housing portfolio, he readily agreed. Joe was not a person who could allow illness, no matter how terminal, to stand in his way. His life history reads like the chronicles of our struggle. He joined the anti-Nazi detachments in the war against Hitler; he was in the thick of the mass campaigns through the roaring fifties; and he stood trail for treason alongside other leaders of our movement.

Joe also understood that tactics and strategies had to be adjusted to the situation and not imposed on it. He knew when to fight and when to negotiate.

So when the movement decided to engage the apartheid regime in negotiations, Comrade Joe was in the first ANC team at Groote Schuur. He threw his weight behind the process and fought vigorously and effectively to fashion the kinds of compromise which were needed to take us forward.

We are approaching the adoption of the new constitution, blazing from the beach-head that Joe helped to capture, to democratic majority rule. It is therefore all the more timely and fitting for us to pay tribute to Joe: for his tenacity; his boldness; his creativity. The final constitution will be a living monument to his tireless efforts.

For J.S. our tri-partite alliance was of fundamental importance. He knew that the durability of the alliance of the ANC and the SACP lay in strengthening each as an independent formation and in securing their co-operation on a voluntary basis. Joe's own life exemplified that relationship - his greatness lay in his success in ably serving each of these two organisations individually, and both of them together. The continuing vigour of our tri-partite alliance is a living monument to his work and that of other communists, like Moses Mabhida, Mosed Kotane, JB Marks and Yusuf Dadoo.

Comrade and Friends,

We have converged here to pay tribute, once again, to one who remained in the trenches and died with his boots on.

Defying the pain invading his body, he brought his immense fund of accumulated political experience to the challenge of housing the nation. He was in the forefront of the drive to build a partnership of government and other social structures to improve the quality of life of our people. That partnership and the new patriotism which imbues it, is a living monument to Joe's dedication to mobilising the nation so that poverty should be eliminated from our land.

Comrade Helena and family, the entire nation is grateful for the way you supported our comrade till his last day. Not even once did you discourage him from executing his duties because of poor health. You were ready to share him with us, even as he fought the cruel disease that was taking his life, till his last courageous breath.

We, who are gathered here, are beneficiaries of the freedom to which Joe dedicated his life. We are the relay team to whom he has handed the torch that he carried for so long. The race will continue until we have achieved a better life for all our people.

This tombstone, symbolising all the ways in which Joe Slovo has entered into the life and the soul of our nation, will forever beckon us to redeem our pledge to make South Africa a better place for all our people.

Rest in peace, Isithwalandwe-Seaparankoe, in the full knowledge that your life's dream is slowly but surely becoming reality.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation