We will always be inspired by Mama Winnie's indomitable spirit

08 April 2018 - 00:01 By NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hugs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the 54th ANC National Conference. Picture: Masi Losi
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hugs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the 54th ANC National Conference. Picture: Masi Losi

As we celebrated Easter I did not for a second imagine that we would wake up to the news of Mama Winnie's departure from our midst. Death had snatched her away from us, and death is so final.

When she was born, her birth was celebrated by the Madikizela family, but through her own life and deeds her departure is mourned and her life is celebrated by the Mandela and Madikizela families, the ANC, South Africans of different political parties, religious people, youth, women and people of the continent and many across the world.

Sitshilo isthonga, sagawula yena ebesimthembile.

We trusted Mama Winnie to be the voice for the voiceless and one of the few women who could speak truth to power and patriarchy. She was a true defender of the excluded and downtrodden. Loved by millions in South Africa, Africa and the world, she remained committed to fighting all injustices, discrimination and exclusion, to the end.

Her charisma and compassion are to be found in the heart of the millions of young people she inspired and who aspired to walk her path. Ever there to listen and provide counsel to them, she will be remembered as the one who always encouraged them to pursue education for the sake of serving the people of South Africa and the continent.

It was her fighting and rebellious spirit that prompted her historian father and scientist mother to send her to school in Johannesburg to study social work. She who became the first black social worker at Baragwanath Hospital in her youth could have opted for a life of relative comfort.

However, Mama Winnie chose to serve the people of South Africa and the developing world with every drop of blood and ounce of flesh available to her. Even at a point where a scholarship was offered to her to study abroad, she took the attitude that service to her people was more important than a life of personal gain.

Her dedication and feisty spirit would catch the attention of the apartheid regime and its collaborators, which often subjected her to unliveable conditions and took every opportunity to harass her and her family, friends and comrades. Her indomitable spirit would not allow them to break her despite being subjected to solitary confinement and years away from Soweto. She towered high above them and with justice on her side and with her eye on the ball of liberation and service to her people. We owe our liberation to Mama Winnie and many of her kind.

Mama Winnie, the fearless fighter and symbol of our fight for gender equality and against injustices, could be found at the rural and urban theatres of the atrocities conducted by the apartheid regime.

She balanced the role of freedom fighter and mother. Raising her children alone, between jail terms and harassments, she was the embodiment of hope to all of us, Tata Madiba included. Tata once commented: "Winnie gave me cause for hope. I felt as though I had a new and second chance at life. My love from her gave me the added strength for the struggles that lay ahead."

It was always a pleasure to be in her company as she was a very warm and generous human being who always was willing to give support and advice. One of the qualities she never lost over time was her frankness. In fact, I used to tease her that she was becoming ungovernable, which she met with warm laughter. We have always learnt a lot from her and every interaction with her was an absolute pleasure. We will always be inspired her indomitable spirit.

I am deeply grateful for all these times and the invaluable support and advice I received from her. Ever the protector of the cause of women, she spent most of her time ensuring that women rose to their rightful places of leadership in every vocation and trade. She turned her profession into a calling to assist and empower our people. Ever the religious and cultural activist, she embodied our African culture in outlook and fashion sense. Ever the giving sister, she would not allow a person to go to bed hungry or to be in want.

Mama Winnie teaches us: "If you stand for a reason, be prepared to stand alone like a tree. If you fall on the ground, fall as a seed that grows back to fight again." Our conversations will greatly be missed, but they remain a guiding star to me and millions of women.

Our deepest condolences go to the daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the entire Madikizela and Mandela families. You should take comfort in the knowledge that she was our pride and hope and that all of us can take all the values and lessons that she taught us. We thank the families for having surrendered her to the service of the nation and progressive forces of the world.

May her soul rest in eternal peace as she joins the galaxy of our heroes and heroines, like Mam Charlotte Maxeke, Mam Helen Joseph, Mam Dorothy Nyembe, Ray Alexander, Rahima Moosa, Mam Albertina Sisulu, Mam Bertha Gxowa, Mam Ruth Mompati, OR Tambo, Chris Hani and many others.

Hamba kahle Mbokodo,


- Dr Dlamini-Zuma, an MP and minister for planning monitoring and evaluation, is a former chairwoman of the AU Commission, and a former minister of health, home affairs and foreign affairs.