In a tribute to Zola Skweyiya, who had 'dedicated his life to serving others', President Cyril Ramaphosa apologised for the way the ANC veteran had been treated in his later years.
Skweyiya spent most of his adult life in the ANC having joined the organisation in 1956, serving in various capacities during the party's exile years, as well as in Cabinet post-democracy.
Ramaphosa - speaking at the official funeral for the struggle stalwart in Pretoria on Saturday - said in all tasks that he was given, Skweyiya had made a difference.
"He was deeply shocked by the conditions under which so many of our people lived and was determined that the democratic state mobilise all resources at its disposal to lift our people out of the agony of poverty," he said.
"He relentlessly championed the child support grant, which had a significant and measurable impact on the health, well-being and prospects of an entire generation of young people. "Thanks to his work, more children have survived, more children have thrived and more children have been able to attend school." Ramaphosa said Skweyiya had achieved all of this without fanfare, without spectacle.
"He did it quietly, methodically and with determination."
'We made a big mistake'
Ramaphosa recounted the day when Skweyiya had been denied access to the ANC leadership.
"It is deeply distressing to recall that in the twilight of his life, this gallant member of the Luthuli Detachment was, by his own account, stopped at the doors of Luthuli House when he wanted to meet the leadership. "Such was the pain and disappointment of this cadre, who gave his life to our organisation that he said: "Here I am and I don't even know where the ANC is."" Ramaphosa said this incident highlighted the shameful departure from the principles, values and ways of the ANC.
"I feel that we did disappoint him. Comrade Zola was one of those rare people you never wanted to disappoint, not because he was judgmental.
"He in fact was infinitely patient and forgiving of people's foibles. And he used that patience of his to make you feel that he understands when you make mistakes.
"But this time round I think we made a big mistake and disappointed him deeply," he said.
Ramaphosa apologised to Skweyiya, his family and ANC stalwarts for the distress that may have been caused. "Today, we make a solemn commitment that never again will we disown and dishonour those who have dedicated their lives to the movement and the cause of our people."