President Cyril Ramaphosa’s eulogy to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela painted a portrait of an unrelenting, tireless spirit, driven by radicalism and grounded in resilience.
Speaking at a memorial service hosted by the Eastern Cape government in Mam’ Winnie’s hometown of Bizana on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said Madikizela-Mandela’s spirit was never broken, despite all the evils visited upon her by the apartheid regime.
The service was attended by Eastern Cape acting premier Fikile Xasa, ANC provincial chairman Oscar Mabuyane, various provincial MECs, Police Minister Bheki Cele, traditional leaders and representatives of various political parties, among the thousands of people who graced the occasion.
Ramaphosa said no ANC leader had endured more pain, humiliation and suffering at the hands of the apartheid regime than “Mam’ Winnie”, but she never gave up her fight for retributive justice and equality.
“The apartheid regime sought to break her spirit, they sought to destroy her by constantly harassing her family, subjecting her to the worst forms of torture, detaining her without crime, putting her in solitary confinement, banishing her to a place that is far away from her home and imposing on her a long-distance relationship with her husband and children,” said Ramaphosa.
“But Mam’ Winnie’s spirit was never broken. Mam’ Winnie never gave up. Mam’ Winnie never betrayed the struggle. Mam’ Winnie never sold out. Mam’ Winnie emerged out of every situation meant to break her even stronger and more powerful, more courageous and much more determined.”
Ramaphosa said the struggle stalwart, who passed away on April 2 2018 following repetitive bouts of illness since January, had carved her own iconic significance in the struggle against apartheid by contending for radical policies in the fight to achieve equality.
“She was a symbol of hope to all the oppressed and a source of courage for those who wanted to fight against injustice. Go around our country and ask those who were around in 1976, in the 80s, to find out the strength and courage of Mam’ Winnie. Ask those who suffered under the brute force of apartheid, you will hear them say there was no one who had more courage, who had more commitment, who was stronger than Mam’ Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela,” said Ramaphosa.
He said Madikizela-Mandela inspired the student movement to play a bigger role in fighting apartheid and inspired the militancy of the ANC youth league, even after the 1994 democratic breakthrough.
“Mam’ Winnie was always on the side of young people. She identified more with radicalism of the youth than [the] conservatism of those of her age group … It was this relationship which she had with young people that correctly earned her the titled ‘mother of the nation’, which she earned in the trenches of the struggle.”
Ramaphosa called on young women of the country to take up the baton in the fight against patriarchy, which Madikizela-Madela advanced, especially during her tenure as president of the ANC Women’s League.
“She was a true mbokodo. She was also a symbol of women’s emancipation. Throughout her life as a political activist, she did not conform to the politics of respectability and sexist gender roles. She inspired many women to fight against patriarchal relations of power even in her own movement, the ANC … and in the country as a whole,” said Ramaphosa.
He added that Madikizela-Mandela did not approve of continued patriarchal attitudes against women. “In her honour, we call on especially young women to take up the baton and organise themselves to confront all the social ills that continue to oppress them on the basis of their gender. We also call upon men to say no to the abuse of women and to denounce backward patriarchal attitudes towards women,” said Ramaphosa.
The president thanked the Madikizela and Mandela families for the sacrifice Madikizela-Mandela made for the struggle against apartheid.
“As she served our people, she did not serve her own family … She only knew to serve the people of South Africa, and that is what she was committed to. When we put her to rest it should be an act where her spirit, courage and determination will regenerate itself in our hearts and minds.”
Madikizela-Mandela’s nephew Thembelani Madikizela said the struggle stalwart always taught them to help people without expecting anything in return.
“She would say help people even if you don’t know them, even if they have no proximity to power, help them even if you have no hope they will be able to help you when you need help. That is part of the legacy she left with us,” said Madikizela.
Madikizela said their aunt was always keen to be part of family gatherings and observing rituals, even travelling from Johannesburg to Bizana for her siblings’ grandchildren’s ceremonies.
“She would always insist on being invited to traditional ceremonies, even for something as routine as imbeleko (introducing a child to the clan).”
Madikizela said one of Mam’ Winnie’s last wishes was to have a visit from all her brother’s children at once. “In January when she was ill we went to see her. She said she wanted all her brother’s children to come back and see her; so that she could be with all of us, under one roof.
“Last weekend we had arranged that trip but she died before we could see her. From her we will take the legacy of doing things together and being united as a family,” said Madikizela.
Ramaphosa said among the young people whose energy Madikizela-Mandela channeled into the liberation struggle was Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, who has become an iconic martyr in his own right, having been sentenced to death by hanging in 1979 at the tender age of 22.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on April 2 went to join a legion of struggle heroes who died in April and cemented this month’s political significance for South Africa. Ramaphosa said that in addition Mahlangu was hanged on April 6 1979, a date that coincides with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck on South Africa’s shores in 1652.
Freedom fighter and SACP leader Chris Hani was killed on April 10 1993, while Oliver Tambo died on April 24 1993.
“She took her last breath (in April), significant in the history of our country. The seeds of division, oppression, colonialism, exploitation and apartheid were planted with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in April in 1652. In 1994 apartheid and colonialism were finally rooted out and the oppressed people of our country finally got freedom.
The month of April [has] imposed its political significance by claiming the most significant giants of our revolution. Twenty-five years ago, comrade Chris [Hani] who was a fearless revolutionary, whose ideas made the apartheid regime very uncomfortable, died in April … we also remember the gallant Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu. We pay homage to the leader of our struggle, comrade Oliver Tambo.”