The Wills Family, Friends and Colleagues;
Leadership of the ANC;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
There are moments in life that overwhelm.
I work with words every day, however my words here today will seem inadequate to describe the life that has brought us all on this grieving part of our province.
Let me start by thanking the family and friends of our departed Comrade and Colleague Mr John Wills for affording us this opportunity to bid goodbye to this legal giant who once walked among us.
We wish to thank the Wills family for the special gift to life in the name of John Wills. Death has robbed us of an extraordinarily talent and bright legal mind in our province. Death has stolen from us our legal jewel, our glittering star. We are left heartbroken and in complete distraught for our ever jovial and dazzling legal star has faded.
On behalf of the Provincial Government and the people of KwaZulu-Natal, we convey our deepest sympathies to the entire Wills family, children and grandchildren. We invite God and his grace to intervene and heal the deep pain caused by the tragic passing of Cde. John Wills.
As we assembly here, we remember and celebrate the life of Cde John Wills an audacious roaring giant, a fighter for justice and someone who embodied in words and deeds the revolutionary values of humility, hard work, diligence and honesty.
Ghanaian Author Israelmore Ayivor, had people of John Swills impeccable character when he reflected thus “The size and height of the tree determines how heavily the ground will shake when it falls. Some trees fall and not even pests become aware. But the baobab tree falls and the whole forest looks empty”
This is the life and story of this gentle giant we bid farewell today. We were not ready to comprehend life without Cde. John Wills. We stand here shaking and panic-stricken and we struggle to bear the pain of the untimely demise of Cde. John Wills, a household name in the KwaZulu-Natal Public Administration and the legal fraternity.
In the introduction to the book by Ruth First titled "No Easy Walk to Freedom", ANC President OR Tambo writes of his law practice together with Nelson Mandela, and he says, and I quote:
“To be unemployed(under apartheid) is a crime because no African can evade arrest if his passbook does not carry the stamp of authorised and approved employment. To be landless can be a crime.
To brew African beer, to drink it or to use the proceeds to supplement the meagre family income is a crime, and women who do so face heavy fines and jail terms. To cheek a white man can be a crime. South African apartheid laws turn innumerable innocent people into "criminals,” OR said.
As John Wills found out, apartheid stirred hatred and frustration as young people, who should be in school or learning a trade were roaming the streets, joining gangs and “wreaking revenge on the society that confronts them with only the dead-end alley of crime or poverty,” wrote OR Tambo.
These words are fitting to the life of John Wills, he who abandoned the privileges of birth and being a professional to attend to the queues of desperate mostly black people, victims of a system of racial hierarchy, injustice and the abuse of human rights.
If John Wills was to tell his own story today, I have no doubt that like OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela in the Ruth First book, he too would relate a tale of no easy walk to freedom away from apartheid, a story of what it took to fight a system that by its design, engendered criminality, violence, revenge and decay and which was prepared to kill all those who opposed it.
As we have heard from Dr Zweli Mkhize and the family of John Wills, when it mattered most he chose to be on the side not just of the victims of apartheid, but on the side of the truth and justice.
Like the leaders of the ANC in OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela, John Wills pursued the path of justice and supported the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995 which instituted a truth and reconciliation commission to address the crimes of apartheid and bring healing to the country.
The mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission included among other things, investigating and bringing out the truth about the gross violations of human rights under the apartheid regime from 1960 to 1994.
John Wills was integral to this work seeking to expose the machination of the apartheid hits squads in places such as Northern KwaZulu-Natal and the Midlands, and in the process helped the healing of communities by getting the truth about what happened and hopefully to find closure or pursue violations in a criminal court.
Mr Wills distinguished himself as a fighter for human rights and labour rights who was on the side of the underdog all his professional life. We will remember him for representing the Bhangazi Community in settling the Eastern Shores St. Lucia Land Claim, and for defending the voiceless and vulnerable and creating conditions to reduce violence in the taxi industry.
Allow me to quote this verse from the Bible which says: “I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made them drop their prey from their teeth(Job 29:15-17).
And another which says: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”(Proverbs 31:8-9).
We lost John Wills at 66years of age to a tragic road accident. This was way before he was meant to go, when he still had so much more to offer the people of KwaZulu-Natal.
As we conclude, maybe as part of restorative justice and in honour of John Wills we should heed and implement some of the recommendations of the Motorcycle Safety Institute of South Africa which have been submitted to government to aid the safety of motorcyclists.
These are the following among others:
Incorporate motorcycle-friendly roadway design, traffic control, construction, and maintenance policies and practices
Identify roadway surface markings, surface materials, and other treatments that reduce traction for motorcycles and treat or replace with high-traction material
Reduce roadway debris – such as gravel, shaved treads, and diesel / oil control treatments (sand etc.)
Increase the visibility of motorcyclists
Increase the use of protective clothing
Form strategic alliances with the motorcycle community to foster and promote motorcycle safety
Educate operators of other vehicles to be more conscious of the presence of motorcyclists
Increase safety enhancements for motorcyclists and increase motorcycle rider safety awareness
Improve motorcycle safety research, data, and analysis
Impound vehicles that are the cause in motorcycle accidents and suspend licences
In John Wills, our province has lost a gallant fighter for justice, truth and reconciliation, indeed a rare species of humanity. May his family be consoled by the fact that John Wills has done his job, and that he knew his task on earth was to drive the project for the building of a truly non-racial, non-sexist and equal KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, a project for which he lived and died.
On behalf of provincial government and the people of KwaZulu-Natal, we send our deepest respects and convey our sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr Wills”,
To members of the Wills Family Glen, Daniel, Natalie, Hayley Wills, James Laidlaw and the rest of the family and friends.
To members and friends of the Vespa motorcycling Club represented by Mr Mark Engels this morning and the fellow members of the legal profession and comrades of John Wills including Cde. John Jefferys on behalf of provincial government we wish to express our sincere condolences on the passing of this great man.
The people of KwaZulu-Natal are poorer following his death under what were very tragic circumstances.
Go well John Wills. We will always remember you.
Your race is run and you have left KwaZulu-Natal better than how you found it,
May His Soul Rest in Peace!