Former president Jacob Zuma addressed the crowd outside Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s house on Thursday. Zuma, whose speech was preceded by ululations from some of her admirers in ANC paraphernalia, said he was shocked to hear about Mam’Winnie’s death although he knew she was suffering from a long sickness.
“Death is a very painful experience to befall any family, but it is even more painful in the case of Madikizela Mandela because she was not just a mother for her own family or to the organisation, the ANC, but the mother to the entire nation.”
“One of our pillars of the movement has fallen, one of our leaders has departed,” said Zuma.
Mam’Winnie, as she was affectionately known, was a leader recognised not just within the ANC but by country and the world.
“This is not because she was the wife of our leader and a struggle icon, Nelson Mandela, but because in her own right she made an immense contribution to the struggle. She made a very remarkable and noticeable contribution to the struggle in many respects,” said Zuma.
He said Mam’ Winnie influenced the oppressed to fight for their freedom; That many people joined the struggle because they saw her fighting even though her husband was in prison and did not know when he would be released.
“She was brave and politically clear and could not be confused by anything that does not relate to the struggle. So, we have lost a leader and a mother. To us it is a big loss and we say our heartfelt condolences to the Mandela and Madikizela family,” added Zuma.
By all accounts, Nomzamo Winnifred Madikizela-Mandela was a complex, controversial woman. She was also an affectionate and charismatic political figure.
She became the face of the struggle for resistance against apartheid in South Africa.
She was a fearless, radical and fiery orator whose words stirred deep and intense emotions that galvanised activists to take their fight against the brutal apartheid government.
Mam’Winnie was loved and hated in equal measure by both her admirers and detractors.
But despite her flaws and missteps -which senior ANC official, Tokyo Sexwale, said were never committed for personal gain but were part of the broader of the liberation struggle – all concur that no one suffered as much as she did.
She survived several detentions, torture and beatings.
She has, against all odds, displayed a remarkable sense of stoicism, fortitude and inner strength that saw her withstand the emotional and psychological trauma visited upon her by the apartheid security forces. To most of her supporters, the epithets: ‘Mother of the Nation and uMama’ are fitting descriptions.
No amount of evil machinations hatched by the minority regime could break her. These included a subtle form of torture widely used by the apartheid government at the time, where activists were taken away from their familiar surrounding and banished to places they never heard of. In her case, she was banished to Brandfort in 1977, a desolate Afrikaaner dominated town in the Free State. It is also worth noting that the Orange Free State, known as this at the time, was largely a Sesotho and Afrikaans area. She was an umXhosa woman.
Madikizela-Mandela used her house as a sanctuary for activists who ran away from their homes including those in transit to go into exile. Among the first trained social worker, she was always available to provide counsel, moral and material support to the victims of the apartheid all the while she was taking care of her two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa.
Perhaps, the most brutal torture she suffered was to raise the children by herself without the support of her late struggle icon and husband, Nelson Mandela, who was sent to life imprisonment in Robben Island in 1962.
Since the announcement of her passing, her Orlando West home turned into a political shrine. This is perhaps not a new occurrence in that her home has always been a centre and common place for ANC activists and members of the community.
Young, old, rich and the poor all converged to pay homage to the matriarch. They spoke fondly of her role, how she shaped their political outlook; the impact she had on their lives; how they would remember and preserve her liberation struggle legacy.
Some of the personalities who came to pay their respects included former speaker of the Gauteng Legislator, Trevor Fowler; Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini; ANC stalwart Kgabisi Mosunkutu; former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar; Pastor Raymond McCauley who was part of a Church delegation led by Reverends Frank Chikane and Malusi Mpumlwana.
One of the comrades who was at Madikizela-Mandela’s house was Thandi Shezi.
Shezi, a staunch member of the ANC, from Ward 52 in Emden, said she knew Madikizela Mandela “since the 80s when the struggle was intensifying”.
“I remember when we were holding a funeral service of some of our comrades at Regina Mundi. Police gave us five minutes to disperse. But she came and told the police: ‘I am giving you the police five minutes to leave this place. She was such kind of a leader,” said Shezi, wearing ANC traditional colours.
Shezi said she admired her bravery and selflessness and reckons few people would have cracked under such harsh political situation. “What I would like people to celebrate and remember her for is for them to emulate her deeds.”
“They must be brave and always stand for the truth and the greater public good. She stood firm until she gave her last breath,” said Shezi.
What I like most about her, she added, was the fact that she loved her people and wanted to be within their midst. She never relocated to the leafy suburbs like most politicians did after 1994, Shezi said.
Methodist Church Bishop Gary Rivas said she knew Madikizela Mandela because she has been a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa for her whole life.
“As the bishop of the Johannesburg I have been involved in looking after her spiritually and pastorally. She was probably one of the strongest people I have ever met in my whole life. I have met so many strong people of all persuasions all over the world and she is without a doubt one of the strongest,” said Bishop Rivas.
As mourners in ANC colours sing and dance in front of the main gate leading into the Mandela house, Othaniel Sangweni sits on one of the giant rocks put along the driveway, a little distance away from the crowd.
He looks every part an ANC as he is clad in a coloured green and gold tracksuit top. He looks deep in thought and somewhat oblivious to his surroundings. It is only when you get to speak to him to understand why: he feels a deep sense of loss of her icon.
Sangweni mother’s home was next to the old Mandela family house though he spent his youth and adult life in Tembisa. He said he heard a lot about Winnie Mandela and only came to see her in a flesh during the UDF time when violence between ANC and IFP was at its peak in the Kathorus area.
“I knew Winnie as a fighter for the people. I remember when I was arrested after we burned trains and cars in the area I was sent to Modderbee Prison. She is the one who came to have released and since then I came to admire as a true fighter till today. She was fearless and a unifier who always fought on the side of the people. I wish people could embrace the values she espoused. Her death is a great loss, but we will never disappoint her, we will carry the baton,” said Sangweni as he suddenly jumps to his feet to join in the singing and dancing.
Madikizela Mandela died on Monday at Netcare Hospital in Milpark in Johannesburg aged 81. She will receive a state funeral next week Saturday, April 14 at Orlando Stadium. A Memorial Service will be held three days earlier on April 11 at Regina Mundi Church.