‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal,’ Martin Luther King Jr once said. Kimi Makwetu’s life was lived as a loud voice for things that mattered for the people of our country, especially those who live on the margin.
I met Kimi in the trenches of student politics in the 1980s. Driven by a thirst for a better dispensation in the lives of his people, Kimi lent his voice and time to the struggle towards the freedom of black people. He played his part in his conviction and strong belief in a liberated country where black students would have a chance at life and life’s opportunities. He would never be silenced, even in the face of possible arrest and other dangers that lurked for those who dared to speak against the evils of apartheid. Kimi refused to be silent about the things that mattered.
Kimi’s life was an eloquent voice throughout his career, especially in his latter days as Auditor-General. We all know how the system became predatory, seeking to capture not only the state but even oversight bodies. We listen daily to the horrific stories of the state capture project and see just how close to the precipice our country had come. But for those women and men who stood their ground in the face of seductive inducements, we would never have hope at recovery.
When the history of this country is written, let it reflect that there once was a man – his name was Thembekile Kimi Makwetu. Indeed, the one we could and had to trust. Let history reflect that when the agencies of state collapsed and capitulated to serving the interests of the few at the expense of many, he stood his ground. Let history reflect that when authorities supported an economic system and practices that ‘took necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few’ (Martin Luther King Jr) Kimi’s reports as Auditor-General pointed out the malfeasance, theft, fraud and blatant corruption. His reports stood as a bulwark, pushing back on the corruption. Kimi and his team stood for the truth when it became convenient and safe to align with untruth. He did not only fight for the rebuilding of the profession’s image and stature but for its transformation too.
What a sad loss his family has suffered. What a loss to our profession and, indeed, a tragic loss to our country.
In life, Kimi’s voice would not be silent. He has arrived at the end of his life and speaks no more. But I dare say that his voice of truth shall be heard by generations to come. His work and achievements shall continue to speak for him. In our hearts and minds, he will continue to speak. His kind, soft and sometimes self-effacing voice shall reverberate through the annals of history.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Thank you, Thembekile Kimi Makwethu for refusing to betray yourself and your country.
Hamba kahle Zikhali, Jojo, Butsolo beentonga. You were a true servant leader of your people. May your soul Rest in Peace. Nje ngebhadi libhadula ukufunu’umthombo ziyafuna njalo, Thixo iintliziyo zolusapho … Lo ubizwa naziinzulu ngeengxangxasi zazo, Maba bek’ithemba labo kuWe, Bathuthuzeleke.
Moved by Kimi’s voice, an official from National Treasury penned these verses to ensure Kimi’s voice echoes to eternity
Ode to an Incomparable Self by Themba Zulu On the passing of the AG
This man once said: I will leave this world
But I will not be gone from it
Whatever things I saw as a young boy
Whatever lessons I received from the veld
None will ever exceed the robes I will wear one day
As that chief slayer of the dragon of malfeasance
And now I was timed well to finish my term
Until the morbid theft of my life
For all my lifetime I worked tirelessly
And worrying my work not taken seriously
When each year imprudence wrought havoc
Now here I am at the exit door; but izinyanya refusing
That the mantle must not leave my crown
As I came in as the Auditor-General
I must leave these shores forever as one still
Not in life nor in death I shall be former AG
But destined yonder to carry the burden of this work
For these fitting robes cannot be unrobed
Till that moment I am blanketed with the proud soil
Now it’s us who live that are burdened to remember him
To honour his immeasurable mortal sacrifice
For he was one of us, yet not of our time
We shall chase after his incomparable shadow
He shall smile at our weak effort
Yet we must head onwards diligently; however meekly