President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday described the death of Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, as “the greatest tragedy” to hit South Africa amid the current coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since March 2020.Mthembu, aged 63, passed away last Thursday due to coronavirus-related complications. He was laid to rest at Memorial Park Cemetery in Pretoria on Sunday.
During a funeral service held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ackerville, Mpumalanga Province, Ramaphosa praised “the gentle” Mthembu for being “a beacon of hope when the nation was close to despair, for lifting spirits and bringing clarity, certainty and the utmost professionalism to every task he was assigned.”
“It is the greatest tragedy to have lost him, particularly at this time, as we strive to return to a path of integrity, of selfless service and transformation,” the president said.
According to Ramaphosa, his late minister and “friend” worked very hard to advance the cause of his political home — the ruling African National Congress party.
“Mthembu was among those infinitely rare individuals in our politically-charged society, admired and respected across party lines,” he said.
“It has been profoundly touching to witness how the news of Jackson Mthembu’s passing has stilled the clatter and bickering that has consumed us in recent times — and united us in our sorrow.”
He said he was hopeful that “the sentiment that has been displayed at Jackson Mthembu’s passing is a reminder that we have far more in common than we may choose to believe — whether as members of society or as political parties.”
Calling him “a dear friend” whose many virtues he observed over the many years of their friendship, the president described the fallen minister’s loss as “acutely heart-felt.”
“He had a sense of humour that was often most irreverent. He laughed – with his entire body shaking – about things that he probably shouldn’t have, just as he cared deeply about everything that he should,” Ramaphosa said.
While several ministers have contracted the virus since its outbreak 10-months ago, Mthembu is the first senior member of the cabinet to die from the deadly disease in the country.