Tributes are continuing to pour in for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela‚ as church leaders and politicians who knew her recall how she was unafraid of controversy — taking on causes during the anti-apartheid struggle and even against the two presidents who succeeded her former husband Nelson Mandela.
The Soweto resident passed away on Monday following a “long illness“‚ for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She was 81.
Graca Machel‚ in a statement issued in her capacity as chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust‚ along with fellow chairpersons Judge Yvonne Mokgoro and Phuthuma Nhleko from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital‚ said they celebrated Madikizela-Mandela “as one of the women who stood when no one else would“.
From the 1960s‚ “until the end‚ you remained an activist and like many of us‚ a prisoner of hope‚ who believed in the realisation of the dream that is the ‘rainbow nation’. In as far as you challenged us and forced us to confront our bitter realities; we are thankful. In as far as you provided counsel to political leaders‚ making them see beyond limited party interest; we have been strengthened. In as far as you stood with those who remain marginalised even as we seek the new nationhood; you are our conscience‚” the joint statement read.
Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane paid tribute to Madikizela-Mandela’s lifelong commitment to the poor.
“At the time of the imprisonment of much of the leadership of the anti-apartheid movements on Robben Island and in exile‚ she fearlessly took on the role of being the voice of the voiceless‚” the Archbishop said. “Her feisty spirit was such that not even the cruelty of the apartheid government in banishing her to house arrest in Brandfort could break her resilience and opposition to the government of the day.
In 2016 and 2017‚ Madikizela-Mandela was reported at various points to say that then president Jacob Zuma should step down from office in order to restore confidence in the ANC. She was particularly critical of corruption sinking the country.
Ndungane recounted a personal memory showing she was also unafraid of disagreeing with former president Thabo Mbeki.
“I have abundant memories of her forthright personality and her determination to protect the marginalised of society. So it was that Mama Madikizela-Mandela played a leading role in the 13th International Aids Conference in 2000 in Durban‚ at the height of the Aids denialist movement‚” he said.
“Not long before President Thabo Mbeki had scolded delegates for closing their minds to questions about HIV and Aids‚ Mama appeared in an ‘HIV-positive’ T-shirt‚ demanding treatment for the 4‚2 million South Africans living with the virus.
“Mama Madikizela-Mandela was never afraid to be controversial in her advocacy for the vulnerable‚ describing the annual death from HIV/Aids at the time as a ‘social holocaust’‚ and accusing the government of betraying the people who had voted it into power‚ and of becoming obedient servants to multinational pharmaceutical companies. Following the 2000 conference‚ she then joined me and a number of other civil society leaders in marching through the streets of Durban to publicise the cause of HIV/Aids‚” he said.
Touching on her conviction for kidnapping and being an accessory to the assault of Stompie Seipei‚ the retired archbishop said he had sent her a letter offering pastoral support during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Although Mama Madikizela-Mandela made some well-documented errors of judgment during her life‚ she remained committed to the vulnerable and was often the first at the scene of a tragedy to provide comfort and compassion to those impacted by it‚” he said.
The chairperson of the African Union Commission‚ Moussa Faki Mahamat‚ said from Addis Ababa: “Winnie Madikazela-Mandela was an icon of the liberation struggle against apartheid in South Africa. She will forever be remembered as a fearless campaigner who sacrificed much of her life for freedom in South Africa. She never relented in her struggle or wavered in her commitment‚ despite imprisonment‚ banishment‚ and decades-long separation from her then husband Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment“.
“The entire African Union family joins the continent in grief at the passing of Winnie Madikazela-Mandela. On this sad occasion‚ the chairperson conveys his heartfelt condolences to the Government and people of South Africa.”
Mmusi Maimane‚ leader of the Democratic Alliance‚ said: “We join the African continent and freedom lovers all over the world in mourning the passing of a true freedom fighter and an iconic South African. . . She stands as a bright light that shone a way forward for many others. Even while she opposed the apartheid government‚ she stood for principle‚ and her values outlast the struggle and apply to this day.”
Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba sent condolences to the Madikizela and Mandela families.
“Mama Winnie has remained a formidable force against injustice‚ a roaring voice when it was dangerous to do so and a symbol of the great shoulders this country has stood on over the years.
“I will not misremember her role in fuelling many with the fire to continue the long fight against apartheid. It is important that I say aluta continua to a struggle hero‚ mother of the nation and the woman who roared until the ground beneath her moved to her demands‚” said Mashaba.
“Hers was a life well lived and filled with a deep commitment to a long service to the people of this country. The nation mourns and celebrates your life’s selfless and fierce work. This untimely departure leaves an indelible mark in our history and calls for a moment of reflection.”
Zwelinzima Vavi’s South African Federation of Trade Unions said it lowered its flags in Madikizela-Mandela’s honour.
“She was a woman revolutionary‚ who was never prepared to be just Nelson’s wife but a fearless fighter‚ moulded in the struggle against apartheid and and a role model for women today. She will always be an inspiration for future generations of women revolutionaries.
“At a time when so many leaders on the once proud African Nation Congress have been corrupted by the lure of personal wealth‚ it is more important then ever to remember the veterans of the past like Winnie Mandela who refused to bend under the yoke of the racist tyranny.
“Mama was no angel‚ just like everyone else‚ but she will always have a very special place in the hearts of millions.”
The University of the Witwatersrand‚ where Madikizela-Mandela graduated with a BA degree in international relations in 2005‚ said the flag above the Wits Great Hall would fly at half-mast in honour of her memory on Tuesday.
“A political stalwart in her own right‚ Mama Madikizela-Mandela gave of herself in the fight for gender equity and social justice. She always made time to listen to young students and spent many hours offering them inspiration and hope over the years‚” the university said.