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Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died

Thuletho Zwane

Struggle stalwart Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela Mandela has passed away at the age of 81. She will receive a state funeral in just under two weeks’ time‚ President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday night.

The African National Congress (ANC) refer to Madikizela-Mandela as a “titan of the liberation struggle, a revolutionary and a stalwart of our glorious movement”.

In a statement released after the passing of Madikizela-Mandela, the ANC said it will lower their banner in honour of the memory of a great woman.

“Such an impact as an activist and revolutionary around the world, that until her very end of life, she was lauded and  acknowledged for her contribution to the struggles of all oppressed people of the world,” reads the statement.

The Secretary General of the African National Congress,  Ace Magashule, addressed the nation Monday evening on the untimely passing of ANC Stalwart.

Mam Winnie, as she was affectionately called by those close to her, was conferred with an honorary Doctrate of Laws by the internationally renowned Makere University.

Her passing is said to signal the end of an era, the loss of a freedom fighter who served as the public face of an imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 27 years.

The African National Congress’ Women’s League (ANCWL) said Madikizela-Mandela was one of the prolific leaders our country has had and will never be forgotten.

Madikizela-Mandela was elected President of the women’s league on 8 December 1993. The election came just a year after she resigned from all ANC leadership posts, including her post as Member of Parliament. She was re-elected at the next conference in Rustenburg in 1997 and replaced in the 2003 election by her successor, Nosiviwe Mapise-Nqakula.

“A selfless fighter of the unjust laws of oppression against the poor and working class who earned herself a title of ‘Mother of the Nation,'” read the ANCWL’s statement.

Family spokesman Victor Dlamini told the media that Madikizela-Mandela “succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones” following a long illness, which had seen her go in and out of hospital since the start of the year.

The Mandela family also issued a statement on Monday, stating, “It is with profound sadness that we inform the public that Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away at the Netcare Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday 2 April 2018.

ANC’s alliance partner, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), issued a statement following the passing of Madikizela-Mandela. The trade union is concerned with the material conditions of the working people as a whole, something Mam’ Winnie cared deeply about.

Cosatu said Mam’ Winnie was a fearless voice and a staunch defender of the working class interests. She spoke against the perpetuation of apartheid’s separate development, growing inequality and deepening poverty.

“She championed economic transformation without fear or favour and spoke out consistently against social injustice,” said Cosatu.

Madikizela-Mandela was one of the greatest icons of the struggle against Apartheid. She fought against the Apartheid state and sacrificed her life for the freedom of the country.

Her activism and resistance to Apartheid landed her in jail on numerous occasions, eventually causing her banishment to the small town of Brandfort in the then Orange Free State.

She experienced early exposure to apartheid in the Village of Mbongweni, Bizana in the Transkei, where she was born on 26 September 1936.

Her early exposure to apartheid inspired in her a lifelong hatred of injustice and racism. It was this early exposure that inspired her to become a social worker.

She completed university, a rarity for black women at the time, and became the first qualified social worker at Johannesburg’s Baragwanath Hospital.

It was her political awakening, especially her research work in Alexandra township on infant mortality, which found 10 deaths in every 1,000 births.

“I started to realise the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system,” she said in an interview.

While in Johannesburg, she set her lifelong path, joining the ranks of celebrated freedom fighters of the ANC and the broad liberation movement in the 1950s.

She had a deep and passionate aversion to injustice in all its forms and it was through her social work at the then Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto that she became moved by the plight and living conditions of the black majority. This motivated her to use her learning and skills to uplift them.

She faced imprisonment, banning, harassment, house arrest and solitary confinement.

Due to her unwavering leadership in the struggle her home became a pilgrimage site for many leaders and members of various communities.

Madikizela-Mandela tirelessly campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners; gave refuge to those running from the police; harboured combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe returning to or leaving the country, always an active part of whichever community she found herself in.

“She was an activist in her own right, and will be remembered for having stood at the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights in South Africa – taking part in a number of demonstrations against the unjust pass laws,” said the ANC.

She was first arrested in 1958 and over the years would face many more such detentions and banishment including solitary confinement. Despite all these attempts to break her spirit, she remained steadfast and refused to cease with her political activism, displaying exemplary courage that made her a role model for many young women activists in South Africa..

There she was given the option of leaving South Africa for Swaziland or the Transkei homeland. She opted to remain in South Africa, living in Brandfort for eight years where she continued to spread political ideology among local residents.

In 1985, she defied government orders and returned to her Soweto home after her Brandfort house was firebombed.

Upon her return to Gauteng, an area which fell under the Transvaal province at that time, Madikizela-Mandela’s message of resistance spurred the youth in Soweto, many of whom she took into her own home. She established the Mandela United Football Club, whose members served as her bodyguards.

In the years to come, Madikizela-Mandela would later appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to answer to allegations of torture, abduction and the killing of Stompie Moeketsi Seipei, for which her former bodyguard Jerry Richardson was convicted.

Madikizela-Mandela was known to have been opposed to the reconciliatory approach that Mandela and his leadership collective had assumed post-apartheid.

In 1995, The New York Times reported on Madikizela-Mandela’s decreasing tolerance for the reconciliation project which culminated in her dismissal from Cabinet.

She was accused of defying presidential orders and sowing divisions through her constant criticism of government.

The New York Times spoke of Madikizela-Mandela’s significant power base in the ANC and how she promised to fight from within for the soul of the party.

Repeatedly she railed against Nelson Mandela’s Government for ostensibly catering to affluent whites at the expense of the oppressed black majority.

Madikizela-Mandela would constantly mock the Government for spending generously to entertain white South Africans while black South Africans go hungry.


In an interview published in the London Evening Standard this week in 2010, Madikizela-Mandela was recorded saying the ANC and Mandela have failed the people of South Africa.

She said Mandela had become “corporate foundation” who was being “wheeled out to collect the money”.

Madikizela-Mandela also called Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu a “cretin”, in the interview with Nadira Naipaul, who visited her with her husband, the writer VS Naipaul, in Soweto.

“Mandela let us down,” said Madikizela-Mandela.

She constantly reminded the nation and the world that the South African economy was a bad deal for blacks.

“He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside.

“The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded,” said Madikizela-Mandela, in the interview published on www.standard.co.uk.

She said Mandela had no control over the ANC anymore and was just being used by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to get funds.

The South African Communist Party (SACP)  said its alliance partners, the ANC together with South Africa’s liberation movement  and government, should document the institutional memory of Madikizela-Mandela.

“South Africa will lose without a detailed historical account of the contribution and sacrifices made by each one of our veterans to the course of freedom. This is important for young people and future generations.”

“An accurate account of where our society comes from is crucial to out national vision for a non-racial, non-sexists, democratic and prosperous South Africa based on social emancipation,” said the SACP.

Hamba kahle Mkhonto!


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