Duarte (68), who had been a political activist since her teenage years, had been forced to leave her party work late last November due to the severity of her illness and had been on medical leave.
Duarte was a lifelong political activist and a former politician and diplomat who had risen to the top of the governing party’s leadership in 2012.
Family spokesperson Zane Dangor confirmed Duarte’s death early on Sunday, saying that she had fought bravely against the disease, to which she had finally succumbed.
She will be buried on Sunday afternoon.
Duarte, who was born in Coronationville, Johannesburg, was a founding member of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) – an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (UDF) – serving as its provincial secretary in the then Transvaal.
An accountant who was recruited into politics by the later Albertina Sisulu, Duarte was detained for her activities under the State of Emergency in 1988 for several months and served with a restriction order on her release.
After 1994, she was elected to the ANC Gauteng provincial executive committee and served as Gauteng’s first safety and security MEC, a role Duarte quit due to a controversy over her driving licence.
Duarte, a mother of two, was then appointed as ambassador to Mozambique, where she served from 1999 to 2003.
Duarte also served as ANC spokesperson, developing an at times tense relationship with the media, who narrative she was not slow to criticise in occasionally heated engagements over the years.
Duarte rose to the party’s national leadership during this period, and was elected as deputy secretary general of the ANC at its 2012 elective conference in Mangaung, a post to which she was re-elected in 2017 at Nasrec.
Duarte acted as secretary general after the suspension of Ace Magashule, who was arrested on corruption charges and forced to step aside, and had faced death threats from his supporters in the ANC radical economic transformation faction who believed she had abandoned their cause.
Last year Duarte announced that she would retire after the party’s next national conference, which will be held in Johannesburg in December.
ANC Johannesburg regional secretary Sasabona Mangaye said Duarte has served the government as an “outstanding public servant” and had been a human rights activist and leader with absolute conviction to the cause.”
“Her life was a tribute to the marginalised women of our country who have today assumed their rightful place in the forefront of the struggle. We celebrate her life as one decorated with full service to humanity,” Mangaye said.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said Duarte had been a “pillar of strength” to both the party and her family and had committed her life to the struggle for equality in South Africa and on the continent.
“She dedicated her entire life to the struggle for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, prosperous and just South Africa. A committed gender activist, she relentlessly championed the emancipation and empowerment of women.”
“Her life and work reflected a consistent commitment to advancing the rights of the poor and the marginalised,” Mabe said.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said Duarte had despised racism, sexism and tribalism and had not been shy to call out her own comrades over any such tendencies or behaviour.
“She was not afraid to say exactly how she felt on an issue,” Pamla said.