First of all, let me express my sincere thanks to Guan Eng and his siblings for inviting me and my family to this very special occasion of celebrating their beloved father’s 75th birthday.
Since the recurrence of my cancer last year, reminiscing has become an important part of my life and tonight’s event will certainly add to my many beautiful memories.
A 75th birthday is indeed a significant milestone and let me extend my sincere congratulations to the birthday boy, who is still going strong at an age which others would have quit and settled into retirement.
But as someone once said: Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. In any case, Kit Siang is still young when compared to Nelson Mandela who was 76 when he became the president of South Africa in 1994.
Kit Siang has not been rewarded such a lofty position nor abundant wealth but because of his selfless struggles and immense sacrifices, God has rewarded him with more than 2.3 billion seconds of life! (75 years lifetime is more than 2.3 billion seconds).
There is no doubt that he will be recognised in history as one of Malaysia’s greatest statesmen.
To quote Mandela, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
No one can deny the differences that Kit Siang has made to Malaysia and the people who yearn to make it a better country for our future generations.
According to Martin Luther King, Jr, the late human rights activist, the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Kit Siang is a classic example of such a man.
Kit Siang has fought the hardest
As the DAP celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Kit Siang can certainly take great pride that the party has become much stronger and has risen to become the beacon of hope of the people.
He should in fact be the proudest person tonight because he is the DAP leader who has been fighting the hardest for democracy, justice, equality and true national unity and he is also the major reason why DAP has been able to survive its darkest hours and triumph over its constant trials and tribulations.
A big thank you to Mrs Lim Kit Siang
Many leaders and members have suffered and made sacrifices in fighting the DAP’s cause. So have their spouses and families in various ways. I can still recall the time when both Kit Siang and Guan Eng were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1987 for 18 months.
As the person who helped to drive Kit Siang’s family members to the Kamunting detention camp every week for 18 months, I knew how much that they had to suffer.
Tonight, we have a great opportunity to say a big thank you to not only Kit Siang but also to an equally remarkable person who has been his tower of strength - Mrs Lim Kit Siang. Let’s show our appreciation to her for sharing her husband and members of her family with the party, the people and the country.
The greatest leader of all times
Five years ago, during a video interview in conjunction with Kit Siang’s 70th birthday, I had described Kit Siang as the best of the best DAP leaders.
Tonight I shall say and I believe many of you will agree with me that he will be the DAP’s greatest leader of all times.
The courageous and far-sighted Kit Siang is not only a political genius but an enduring political titan. His eloquence in Parliament and ceramahs, his ability to highlight issues incessantly in the media, his brilliant political sense have been well known to all. But what is Kit Siang like behind the great image?
Kit Siang truly loves Malaysia and all Malaysians
Kit Siang has been vilified in many ways and even accused of being anti-Malay . But ever since I joined the party in 1986 till today, I have never heard him utter, whether in private or in public, any prejudice or attacks against the Malays.
He is strongly committed to help all races and never hesitates to venture into areas where the DAP does not have support, even into places seen as enemy territory.
For example, in 1990, he led a delegation of DAP leaders to Felda Gelanggi 4 in Pahang, Felda Kampung Palong 9 in Negri Sembilan and Felda Taib Andak in Johor to fight for the Felda settlers who were facing some problems.
Kit Siang’s struggle for all Malaysians is on record and there is no doubt that he truly loves Malaysia and all Malaysians. This is why he has emerged as the national hero to right thinking Malaysians.
Kit Siang is willing to risk his life
In helping the people, he has shown that he was even prepared to risk his life.
During the 1998 outbreak of Nipah Encephalitis virus in Bukit Pelanduk, Kit Siang took the risk to go into the Negri Sembilan village to meet the pig farmers. We went into the village after applying mosquito repellants and wearing long-sleeved shirts, thinking that the virus was spread via mosquito bites as that was what the authorities had said so.
We were lucky that we did not go near the pig pens as it was found out later that the disease was not spread by mosquito bite but by the pig’s breath. A total of 108 people had died in the outbreak.
Earlier in 1986, there were rumours that Kit Siang might be murdered and there was in fact one day when rumours were flying all over that Kit Siang had been shot dead. A few senior party leaders then proposed that the party hire bodyguards for his safety. But he just would not accept such an idea. This is a man who does not fear death.
Kit Siang remembers former comrades
Many party veterans who have retired know him as a person who would also remember former comrades. In 2011, Kit Siang had a serious eye infection after his cataract surgery and that was when DAP Chinese education fighter Chian Heng Kai had passed away. Medically, it was not advisable for Kit Siang to travel during the recovery period, but he insisted on going all the way from Penang to Muar to pay his last respects to Heng Kai.
Since my retirement from politics in 2004, Kit Siang has never failed to pick up my phone calls or return my missed calls as soon as possible. And since my rectal recurrence in July last year, Kit Siang has paid me five visits. This is a reflection of Kit Siang’s caring and compassionate nature.
Kit Siang is forgiving
Many years ago when a DAP leader quit and attacked the party, Kit Siang chose not to respond at all. When I asked him the reason, he replied that this person had contributed much to the party. During the 80s when another former leader who quit the DAP and joined the other side fell ill and was on his deathbed, Kit Siang went to see him before he breathed his last.
This is the forgiving nature of Kit Siang.
Kit Siang too good to be replaced
Kit Siang has other impressive qualities. He is a simple man who does not make demands on the type of accommodation or foods arranged by DAP branches when he travels round the country.
And his willingness and ability to learn new things is second to none in the party. When email and twitter came into the world, he was the first to pick up the necessary knowledge and skills.
Many people outside the DAP may not know that Kit Siang is so respected in the Party not just because he is such a brilliant political leader, but also because of his many great qualities.
He is truly a great, remarkable and unique person.
That is why he could be the party’s secretary-general for 30 years because even people who disagreed with him had admitted that he was simply too good to be replaced.
Kit Siang is a timeless wonder
David Heenan, the author of ‘Leaving on Top: Graceful Exits for Leaders’, listed four categories of leaders: timeless wonders who have no need to quit, ageing despots who refuse to give up, comeback kids who return to their former glory and graceful exit-ers who depart at the right time.
Kit Siang is certainly a timeless wonder. So, there is no need for him to quit, so long he is still , to quote what he said in my house twice last week, “Up and about”. And he will be up and about for a long time to come.
Looking forward to more milestone birthdays
Last July when my rectal cancer recurred after 13 years of remission, Kit Siang had sent me this message, “Shocking indeed but we must not let it weigh us down. Life after all is about conquering the unconquerable. Let’s keep going”.
Yes, I will fight hard and will look forward to Kit Siang’s 80th and more milestone birthdays.
KERK KIM HOCK is a former DAP secretary-general. He delivered this speech at Lim Kit Siang’s 75th birthday dinner held at the Matahari Ballroom, Equatorial Hotel, Penang on Saturday, Feb 20, 2016.