AWQAF SA, an NGO which contributes toward growth and development in post-apartheid South Africa, launched former Deputy Education Minister Enver Surty’s memoirs, “In Pursuit of Dignity”, at the Old Assembly Chambers in Parliament on Wednesday.
Surty, who has served the ANC at various levels for more than 30 years, was one of the architects of the constitution, as well as serving as terms as Deputy Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces, Justice Minister and becoming the country’s longest-serving Deputy Minister of Education.
His memoirs, written in an easy and anecdotal style, take the reader on a warm journey of his activist life from Rustenburg at the foot of the Magaliesburg to parliament at the foot of Table Mountain.
Speaking at the launch, held in the Old Assembly in Cape Town (which became the National Council of Provinces after 1994) Judge Seraj Desai reminisced about his university days at Durban Westville where he studied law together with Surty.
Calling themselves the “philosophers” in their student years, Desai linked Surty’s memoirs to the pertinent issues of the day, such as land redistribution and non-racialism. He said it was significant that today when people were asked to fill in their race on legal forms, whites would more often than not tick off their identity.
This spoke to a certain historical arrogance, he said, as those from other groups would ignore the question, not regarding it as relevant.
Desai noted that Surty had broached the topic of land in his book, but had not pursued it further. He said he understood the book was a product of its time and political circumstance, but the question had to be raised in the light of contemporary challenges.
Nonetheless, he praised Surty highly for his contribution, adding that it indeed was a “pursuit of dignity” and well worth reading.
Speaker of Parliament, Thandi Modise, the first woman jailed for MK activities in 1979, paid a warm tribute to Surty, giving the packed chamber an example of how he had helped her child to find a school, despite his demanding schedule. She said he was a warm human being, a man who had given her dignity, which was the apt title for his book.
In a lively Q & A session, Surty showed where he had sat in the NCOP chamber, and pointed out the spot where Dr Hendrik Verwoed had been assassinated by the messenger, Dimitri Tsafendas, in September 1966.
Surty, who was peppered with questions about education, called for universities to show more interest in nurturing Grade 12 learners by having meaningful outreach programmes to bridge the Matric-Tertiary divide.
He said the focus in recent years on Early Childhood Development, and bringing Grade R into the school universe was already showing an improvement in literacy rates, and the country would definitely see its benefits in years to come.
“In Pursuit of Dignity” is part of Awqaf SA’s ongoing “Leaders and Legacies Project” through which the contributions and legacies of leaders within the South African community are honoured.
Plaudits for the book have come from many quarters, President Cyril Ramaphosa saying that he enjoyed the stories which, “cumulatively make a fascinating narrative of how cadres from different walks of life have given unstintingly of themselves” to create a better South Africa.
Naledi Pandor, current Minister of the Directorate of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has described “In Pursuit of Dignity” as a “riveting read”.
The launch was also attended by various public figures, including former IFP leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and Ebrahim Rasool, former Western Cape premier, as well MPs and parliamentary staff.