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Ramaphosa bids farewell to ‘dedicated, hard-working’ Hlengiwe Mkhize

25 September 2021 - 15:57
President Cyril Ramaphosa described the late deputy minister in the presidency, Hlengiwe Mkhize, as a fine public servant. File photo
President Cyril Ramaphosa described the late deputy minister in the presidency, Hlengiwe Mkhize, as a fine public servant. File photo
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa paid a moving tribute on Saturday to the late deputy minister in the presidency Hlengiwe Mkhize, saying she was a “fine public servant who served her country with diligence”.

Delivering a eulogy at Mkhize's official funeral at Fourways Memorial Park Chapel in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said: “This is a real blow to the administration, to our team in the presidency.”

Mkhize, who died at the age of 69 after a long battle with lung cancer, previously served as higher education and training minister, home affairs minister and deputy minister for economic development. Ramaphosa said she was a dedicated, hard-working and consummate professional.

“I regard her as a woman for all seasons. She was fit for purpose in whatever role she was assigned to. We knew that whatever portfolio she was assigned to, she would throw herself fully into it and take it upon herself to become fully acquainted with the sector.”

Ramaphosa said Mkhize was a proud and tested member of the ANC. “She has left a void in the ANC, more so at this crucial time when we are consolidating renewal and unity in the ANC.

“She also leaves us while we are in the midst of a local government elections campaign. This is the time when we are counting on seasoned leaders like her to rally our people to vote on November 1.”

Ramaphosa said he will miss Mkhize’s boundless energy, cheerful spirit as well as her wicked sense of humour, even when she was not well.

“I will miss running into her in the various corridors where she’d pull me aside for quick chats which were concise and to the point. When she spoke of problems, she also told me how she was resolving them. I was truly lucky to have had her as a member of my team,” he said.

Her husband, Pat Mkhize, said when specialists told him his wife had lung cancer he was in utter shock and disbelief. “As if it was not enough, the respectful lung specialists continued to say that she is not going to make it beyond this specific period and kwasa ekuseni (it dawned at midday).”

He said he told a specialist there was no way his wife was going to step down from her government job, “knowing her faith in God and her tenacity to serve the people”. 

When he told his wife what the specialist had said about her diagnosis, Mkhize said: “Ngiyabonga ngoba ngihambe kahle phambi kwaNkulunkulu naphambi kwabantu. Ngidabukele izingane zethu. (At least I have walked well and done accordingly in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the people. I feel sorry for our children).”

His wife, he said, was not interested in “those sweet intimate words like darling, sweetheart, mtakwethu. You were more interested in being trusted and good faith.”

Mkhize, who was born on September 2 1952 at Edlebe, near eMahlabathini in KwaZulu-Natal, cut her political teeth when she joined the SA student movement in the 1970s.

Her daughter Londiwe said: “In 2017 she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Not one to seek attention and sympathy, she shared her diagnosis with her family only. After a brief hospital stay, she passed away on the morning of September 6. She is survived by her husband, Bonginkosi Pat Mkhize, and leaves behind children Londiwe, Zinzi, Fezile, Sizwe and grandson Lwazi, as well as her two brothers.”

In a message from the children, her daughter Dr Zinzi Mkhize said: “In March 2017, our world as a family came tumbling down. That is when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I remember sitting in the pulmonologist's office and they told my dad that she had 19 months to live and advised her to step down from her positions.”

At that time, Mkhize had just been appointed as home affairs minister. “Ever the dedicated and servant leader, mom had asked us to represent her at the doctor’s offices. My dad and l stood in the parking lot in shock, thinking, what now?”

Mkhize balanced her work schedule  and ANC responsibilities with chemotherapy every three weeks. “Numerous blood tests, scans and radiation, a Covid-19 diagnosis, which included an admission in July 2020. A day or two after being discharged and being sent home with oxygen she went to help the (Andrew) Mlangeni family in preparation for his funeral,” said Zinzi.

“In June this year, she was again admitted into hospital after a collapsed lung. However, a day or two after being discharged, she was once again on the streets of Soweto cleaning up after the unrest.

“Mom’s last call of duty [was when] she flew out to Cape Town post-chemo to go and cast her vote for the next speaker of parliament. That was my mother: brave, dedicated and selfless. She embodied the spirit of being imbokodo. You fought ma, you fought with dignity and grace.

“Goodbye ma. I will miss our conversations, our travels around the world, our shopping sprees and everything in between. We were so close, and at some point I was called your chief of staff.”

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s wife, Zanele, described Mkhize as “tough but warm, passionate but measured in tone, and a woman who was comfortable in her own skin and with an infectious laugh”.

In her tribute, read by Nomvula Mokonyane, Mbeki said, “She was an elegant and orderly comrade yet able to go off script, meaning that she had the rare quality to be able to connect immediately with whoever she was talking to. She was tough but warm, loyal but ever questioning, serious-minded, passionate but measured in tone.”  

Paying tribute to Mkhize on behalf of the Buthelezi clan, Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi said the country was living in uncertain times which brought great loss.

“Every day brings news of another friend, another acquaintance, another colleague stepping into eternity prematurely, so we are living in perpetual anxiety.”

Buthelezi said Mkhize grew up in his area. “She was someone who was prepared, at all costs, to secure social justice for the vulnerable and the voiceless, and selfless in her leadership. I wish to tell her daughter that she has inherited a legacy to be proud of.”

The Rev Frank Chikane said in his last one-on-one interaction with Mkhize she was “agonising about the trajectory our movement was taking and about what we needed to do to change it”.