‘One of our pillars has fallen’ ― Zuma pays tribute to Winnie Mandela

Former president Jacob Zuma delivered a touching tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, calling the ANC stalwart a leader whose contribution to liberation can never be doubted.

Zuma visited the house of Madikizela-Mandela in Orlando West, Soweto on Wednesday to pay his respects.

Wearing a dark suit and red tie, a visibly sombre Zuma kept his head bowed at times and his hands respectfully crossed over his waist.

Speaking to journalists outside the house, Zuma explained how he heard of Madikizela-Mandela’s passing whilst he was staying in the village of Nkandla. He drew laughter from those around him when he referred to the village as the “famous Nkandla”, in reference to the furore around his infamous “security upgrades” to his homestead in the area.

The former president remarked how her death had come as a surprise, because no matter how many times she went into hospital, she was always discharged.

“I came [here] after hearing shocking news. I must say I was shocked because I’m in the rural area. We were sitting when the news appeared to say our mother is no more. I couldn’t believe it because in the recent period she would go to the hospital and come out and this had become almost a comforting thing that whenever she went she would be going for a check-up and she would come back,” he said.

“I had not even heard she went to the hospital so it was a big shock,” he continued.

Her sudden passing, he said, was not only a shock to her family, but also the world.

“Of course, we will all end up departing this earth, but as you know it is always a painful experience and a painful thing that one of the family departs from us. But it is more felt when we take Comrade Winnie Mandela into herself what type of a person she was: not just a mother to the family, but a mother to the organisation the ANC, [and especially] a mother to the nation,” he said.

Zuma’s words were in stark contrast to those of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki’s tribute to mam’ Winnie.

In interview with eNCA on Tuesday night, Mbeki drew some surprise when he said that Madikizela-Mandela was always “deliberately” late because she wanted attention. He claimed that it was a flaw of Madikizela-Mandela which he publicly berated her for and she “knew she was wrong”.

Mbeki’s comments were perceived by Madikizela-Mandela mourners on social media to be disrespectful.

Zuma himself had had tough moments with the struggle heroine, namely when she stood a chance to oppose him for the seat of deputy president in the ANC at the party’s conference in Mafikeng in 1997.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema charged that during that conference, male leaders in the ANC – particularly Mbeki and Zuma – had “robbed” Madikizela-Mandela of her rightful place in the party.

But on Wednesday, standing outside the gate to her house, Zuma left the past behind, focusing instead on her legacy as a struggle stalwart and leader. His words come at a time when Madikizela-Mandela’s contribution to the struggle has been the subject of criticism and conjecture because of her alleged involvement in the death of Stompie Seipei.

“We’ve lost a mother, a leader, a comrade, [and] a cadre of a special type. No-one can doubt her contribution that she did shorten the distance to our final day of liberation,” he said.

“She was a leader recognised not just within the ANC, but by the country, but by the world. Not just because she was the wife of our leader, our icon, Nelson Mandela, but because in her own name and right she made a contribution to our struggle. A very remarkable and noticeable contribution,” he said.

“There are many who joined the struggle because they saw her fighting with her husband in prison, not knowing when he will come out,” he continued.

“She represented many of the mothers who had their husbands in prison, in exile, whose names are not known. Some of them will never be known. She represented that type of a citizen in our country.”

Zuma honoured her courage, remembering her time in exile in Brandfort in the Orange Free State, and her detention and isolation at the hands of the apartheid regime.

“Her bravery to face the enemy was something beyond understanding as a woman. She was brave, she was politically clear, she could not be confused by anything. She was at the same time a mother of many,” he said.

“To us it’s a big loss. To us there is a pain of losing a mother, of losing a comrade, of losing a leader who has seen it all. She has been detained, tortured, exiled within the country, harassed perpetually. But she stood, because she knew she was a leader.”

Zuma thanked President Cyril Ramaphosa for honouring Madikizela-Mandela with a state funeral saying it is fitting of her legacy. The former president expressed his gratitude to her family.

“One of our pillars has fallen, one of our leaders has departed,” he said.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

Related stories

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Fix economy: Cut, build, tax

Expert panel presents a range of solutions to the economic crisis that include cost cutting, infrastructure spending and a solidarity levy

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

Watch it again: Ramaphosa details economic recovery plan

According to the Presidency, the plan aims to expedite, in a sustainable manner, the recovery of South Africa’s economy

Ramaphosa reiterates support for emerging farmers

On the back of the announcement that the government would allocate more land to be leased by emerging farmers, President Cyril Ramaphosa says that beneficiaries will also be trained in financial management and enterprise development

How graft arrests came together

Learning from its failure to turn the Schabir Shaik conviction into one for Jacob Zuma, the state is now building an effective system for catching thieves. Khaya Koko, Sabelo Skiti and Paddy Harper take a look behind the scenes at how law enforcement agencies have started creating consequences for the corrupt

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels

Ithala backs its embattled chairperson

Roshan Morar is being investigated in connection with KwaZulu-Natal education department backpack sanitiser tender worth R4-million and a batch of face masks that vanished

Inside the illicit trade in West Africa’s oldest artworks

Nok terracottas are proof that an ancient civilisation once existed in Nigeria. Now they are at the centre of a multimillion-dollar, globe-spanning underground industry — and once again, Nigeria is losing out

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday