Former president Jacob Zuma says no one can erase the contributions made by struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in liberating South Africa.
Zuma was speaking to the media after he made a low-key visit to the struggle heroine’s home in Soweto yesterday to pay his respects.
Zuma said he had travelled from his homestead in Nkandla to visit the family, after hearing the news of her passing on Monday. He said his entire family had been shocked when they heard the news, even reflecting that he did not know that she had fallen ill.
“One of our pillars has fallen. One of our leaders has departed. She was a leader recognised, not just by the ANC, but the country… I was shocked, because I was in the rural areas. We were sitting when the news came that our mother is no more.”
Zuma said Madikizela-Mandela had played a great role in mobilising the oppressed to fight against the apartheid system.
“She represented many of the mothers who had their husbands in prison in exile, whose names are not known… She represented that type of a citizen in our country. She also encouraged that you could not just sit and say, ‘my husband is in exile’, you join in and fight.”
He said Madikizela-Mandela was recognised the world over, not because she was married to another struggle hero, Nelson Mandela, but due to her own efforts to continue with the fight against white domination while he and other leaders were jailed on Robben Island.
“A very remarkable and noticeable contribution in many respects . . . influencing the oppressed to fight for their freedom . . . There are many who joined the struggle because they saw her fighting, with her husband in prison, not knowing when he will come out,” said Zuma.
Zuma thanked President Cyril Ramaphosa for declaring an official funeral. As a national heroine, she deserved such an honour to show recognition, respect and dignity for her role as the nation’s mother, he added.
“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 . . . but she stood . . .”
During his short media briefing, Zuma was flanked by Madikizela-Mandela’s grandson Zondwa.
The former president was largely criticised by Madikizela-Mandela during his term in office, as public confidence in him waned over a number of alleged scandals.
Zuma said he was going back to Nkandla following his visit. He is expected to appear in the Durban High Court on Friday for his first appearance on corruption and fraud charges.
Meanwhile, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has shared fond memories of his relationship with Madikizela-Mandela and the Mandela family — a story not widely known by the public, he says.
On Tuesday, Buthelezi responded to Madikizela-Mandela’s death. She died in Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg on Monday, following a long illness. She was 81.
“I feel privileged to have known the late great Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and to have been close to the family,” the veteran IFP leader wrote on his party’s website on Tuesday.
“This closeness is evidenced in her own book, 491 Days, in which she writes about the ANC’s instruction to me to fight the apartheid system from within.
As she said, ‘…that is what people do not know’.
“Our friendship itself is not well-known. Yet I remember the great hospitality she and Madiba extended to me when I used to visit their home in Vilakazi Street, Orlando.
“Mrs Madikizela-Mandela would prepare mouthwatering meals, and the three of us would talk politics, sports, family and music until late into the night.”
When Madiba had later been incarcerated, Buthelezi and Madiba would correspond. Messages would also be sent between Buthelezi, Madikizela-Mandela and one of her daughters.
“There were several painful moments too. I recall, for instance, when some leaders of the UDF disowned her. I was the only one who stood by her at the time.”
Buthelezi said her death was a “terrible loss”, not just for her family, but for the entire country.
She was honoured by the nation not just for her marriage to Madiba, but as a freedom fighter in her own right, who had suffered to the point of being jailed and banished.
“With these memories fresh in my mind, I am saddened by her sudden passing. She and her family made an exceptional contribution to freedom in South Africa.
“May this great South African rest in eternal peace. She will be missed.”
Tributes have been pouring in for the late struggle and liberation leader and President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national period of mourning until April 14.
Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral will be held in Orlando, Soweto on April 14.
She will be buried at a cemetery in Fourways. — AFP