Tribute to Comrade Omar Aboobaker Latiff by ANC KZN Provincial Chairperson Cde Sihle Zikalala at his Memorial Service held on the 24 November 2015
Upward bound, gentle, patient, intellectually alert and encouraging; so was the life of a giant family man, freedom fighter and an academic Cde Omar Aboobaker Latiff. Yes I am referring to the first Mayor of a non-racial Msunduzi municipality and leader of the ANC in the 1990s. Peace be with him and let his family celebrate his life as we do.
As a family man, Comrade Omar Latiff Aboobaker Latiff was “a life planner, an open-minded person who wanted the best for his family. He was the decision-maker and provided guidance to all his children in both academics and leisure” as his son Adil put it. Flowing from these words I can say with no doubt that Cde Omar’s planning capabilities transcended his family boundaries and influenced many lives in Umsunduzi.
As a Chartered Accountant, you would have expected him to be aloof and self-content about his financial management skills, but as a visionary, he shared these skills when he acceded to the call to be the first Mayor of Umsunduzi and also mentored students at the then University of Natal, now known as the University of kwaZulu-Natal or UKZN.
He was an academic but he was not bragging about his academic status and qualifications. He was always humble and respectful.
You will agree with me if I dare say Comrade Omar was not an ordinary person he pretended to be. His approach to life was that of a person “who looked for long-term and durable gains. He wasn’t into the big-bang events or exhibitionism or search for quick results of the typical politician” as his contemporaries like Cde Yusuf Bhamjee would testify.
His political consciousness saw him taking up issues of local government actively and eventually serving as Chairperson of the Greater Pietermaritzburg Local Government Negotiation Forum before he became Mayor of uMsunduzi in 1995.
Visionary as he was, he “introduced an “Open Door” policy that allowed residents to directly meet him to raise their issues and a more open and consultative budgeting process”. Those who are local government practitioners will agree with this as it is the legislated IDP process today. Citizens get to comment on budgets affecting their daily lives. The likes of Comrade Omar were the pioneers.
There are many attributes embodied by Cde Omar which are very scarce among many professionals and leaders today. One of such attributes is professionalism itself. Professionalism means to do work efficiently and effectively. By efficiently, I mean to do work in a manner that brings credible and useful knowledge. This requires us to be more informative, conduct research and to be more innovative. Many professionals do work for the sake of doing it and invest no sense of knowledge to it.
By being effective, we mean to be productive. This requires that a person should do his work with dedication and discipline. Cde Omar would always know what he is doing and do it excellently.
Another key characteristic we must emulate from Cde Amar is a greater sense of patriotism which is currently undermined by the prevailing racial domination and pervasive racial sentiments. Cde Omar shared a vision of a truly non-racial society.
When we say “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”; we express our shared conviction which brought us to the struggle. We must defeat the emerging racial sentiments which pose a threat of undermining the rainbow nation we are building.
Any mobilization which is based on racial groupings will never solve problems we are facing as the country. As the ANC we want to affirm that ours remain the struggle for a South Africa where all people live in harmony irrespective of the racial and gender orientation.
Equally, we need to address the persistent high level of inequality which is prevalent in our society and reflects the legacy of the apartheid-colonial era. It is a fact that those who are poor and suffer the impact of poverty are those who were oppressed. The majority of those who are rich benefited from the apartheid era.
In his book An Easy Burden, 1996, Andrew Young - the former Mayor of Atlanta in US– emphatically outlined the need of racial integration as one critical feature for prosperous society. Andrew Young said:
“The persistence of poverty and racial discrimination in America has generated communities and individuals isolated from the economic life of the country… In order to achieve the goal of shared prosperity, fairness as well as logic requires that special consideration be given to people who have been locked out of the economic mainstream.
My own city, Atlanta, provides example after example of the kind of economic growth that can occur when opportunity is extended to all. Atlanta has become a great city because it developed a fairness formula for ensuring that the benefits of development were disseminated throughout the various communities that made up the city. This practice emerged not from any particular ideology, but from pragmatism.”
I believe the example of Atlanta is one critical lesson South Africa must follow. South Africans need to share skills and opportunities to eradicate the economic gap that exists.
It is proven that poverty and inequality result to many unnecessary social conflicts. The future of this country belongs to all; Africans, Indians, Coloureds and Whites. We must rebuild a sense of togetherness which former President Nelson Mandela spearheaded.
It was not just a coincident but a reflection of a visionary leadership that under the leadership of Comrade Omar the two world icons, President Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were awarded the Freedom of the City of uMsunduze. We all carry a responsibility to build a united, non-racial and prosperous society.
On behalf of the ANC, we thank Mama Roshen and the children for having given us a privilege into Comrade Omar’s life.
Once again we say farewell, Hamba Kahle, Comrade Omar!