ANC and Alliance leaders
Comrades and Friends
Comrade Chairperson, I am overwhelmed by the honour extended to me to deliver the Mama Winnie Memorial Lecture today. Despite the temptation, I don’t intend to present to you the truncated biography of Comrade Mama Winnie that you already know.
Comrade Chairperson; with these few words I already feel a sense of inadequacy that contemporary history has bestowed upon me the task of speaking about one of our own – the most gifted and committed daughter of the soil: a unifier, and a revolutionary par excellence.
Comrades and fellow Compatriots, I am deeply humbled by this honour, and I wish to heartily thank the organisers and all of you for being present today.
We have gathered here today as part of the celebration of the life and times of the late Comrade Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela-Mandela, affectionately known as the ‘Mother of the Nation’. This memorial lecture of Mama Winnie gives us the opportunity as a nation to reflect on the contributions, to the national cause, made by this true daughter of the soil: a patriot who served the people of South Africa and world with distinction.
Umam’ uWinnie was a stalwart of the people’s movement, the ANC, a fearless and feisty freedom fighter, a liberator and leader in her own right. I refuse to mourn her death, but instead choose to celebrate a life well lived in the service of humanity.
Sadly, Comrade Chairperson, a giant who strode the countryside and urban slums like a colossus has fallen. A mouth that uttered sharp words that frightened the enemy, has been silenced for good. The ears that listened intently to millions, who sought your wise counsel, can hear no more. A mind, whose thoughts gave hope to the hopeless, has ceased to function. A humble heart in the body of a giant, whose dreams gave hope to the poorest of the poor and oppressed, has forever lost its beat. A clenched fist, immortalised by you mam’ uWinnie, can no longer inspire the spirit of resistance. As William Shakespeare once wrote: "When the hurly burly's done, when the battle is lost and won." Yes, Mama Winnie has lost the mortal battle, but has won the everlasting love and admiration of her people inside our country and beyond our borders.
As long as we live – mam’ uWinnie – you will be alive in our hearts. Mam’ uWinnie – like no other in her generation, was robbed of many things she treasured the most. She was robbed of her profession as a medical social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, the first qualified, Black member of staff to fill that post. However, due to relentless harassment and banishment orders, she was forced to quit. She was robbed of her husband as a young bride when uTata Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.
She was robbed of motherhood as a young mother, because the enemy wanted to break her spirit. A daughter of the soil, and a true servant of the poor, and marginalised, has completed her mortal journey. All the tricks and barbaric acts by the desperate apartheid regime failed to break the spirit of umam’ uWinnie. Instead, she rose like a phoenix to lead her people to the Promised Land. We salute you Qhawe Lamaqhawe, Ukufa kukufikele, ushiye umzila wentembeko. Lala Ngoxolo!!!
Comrade Chairperson, this memorial lecture gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to, and sustain the memory of the finest and greatest daughter of Africa. Fittingly, umam’ uWinnie was awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for her “excellent contribution to the fight for the liberation of the people of South Africa”. This is just one of many accolades that were bestowed on her. It is also gratifying that umam’ uNomzamo has been accorded: "a Special Official Funeral Category 1, which entails elements of military ceremonial honours”. This category is reserved for persons of extraordinary credentials, specifically designated by the President of the Republic of South Africa. President Ramaphosa said: "mam’ uWinnie deserves the highest respect our nation can demonstrate in honour of a patriot and citizen, who served our nation and humanity at large with distinction during our liberation struggle, and throughout our democratic dispensation.”
Mam’ uWinnie bravely withstood constant harassment by the apartheid police, and challenged their brutality at every turn. She became a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle and of the bravery as well as the determination of the oppressed to gain their freedom‚ against all odds. She has completed her mortal service to humanity, thus she joins the gallery of eminent revolutionaries of the people’s struggle, such as Adelaide Tambo (nee Tshukudu), Albertina Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi, Florence Matomela, Frances Baard, Kate Molale, Ruth Mompati, and Hilda Bernstein, to mention but a few.
It is worth reiterating that umam’ uWinnie was already politically interested and involved in activism, long before she met her future husband. She was particularly affected by the research she had carried out in Alexandra Township as a social worker to establish the rate of infantile mortality, which stood at 10 deaths for every 1 000 births.
During her time at Baragwanath General Hospital, as a first black medical social worker to occupy the post, Comrade Winnie’s reputation began to grow, with stories and photographs about her appearing in newspapers, acknowledging the achievement of this girl from Mbhizana, Pondoland, who came to Johannesburg and looked to be making a name for herself.
Comrade Chairperson; as fate would have it, the young political active Comrade Winnie met and married another accomplished anti-apartheid figure of no less than President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mam’ uWinnie recalls that in their first date, they discussed the finances of the African National Congress that were in dire strait. This courtship resulted in a marriage. Soon thereafter, Tata Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. For 27 long years, Comrade Nomzamo became the lone torchbearer of the resistance movement, often harassed, imprisoned and banned by the apartheid regime. It is this period of total mayhem in South Africa that Comrade Winnie carved a niche for herself as the defender of the downtrodden – the poorest of the people, women and children. This became part of her life that she carried till the end.
Comrade Winnie’s prosecuted the anti-apartheid struggle and displayed rare qualities of a true revolutionary. She showed courage, unrelenting resistance and resilience, audacity, and gallantry. Her militancy therefore, came to represent a guiding light during very dark moments in our liberation struggle. Despite the fact that she was herself brutally tortured, harassed on a sustained basis and extremely abused by the apartheid regime, she inspired hope when it was really tough with no sign of victory in sight. Hope and light were indispensable in the struggle that resulted in the victory of the people, and the defeat of apartheid forces!
Comrade Winnie is an icon of our struggle because she represented something we could not have done without it in prosecuting the struggle towards the defeat of apartheid. She is one of those who ensured the survival of the liberation movement at a time when it appeared that all odds were stacked heavily against it. So yes, we will always remember mam’ uWinnie in a happy way.
Chairperson, mam’ uWinnie passed on at the best time for our motherland. There is a sense of optimism that pervades the air. Since the political transition was carefully managed, a new dawn has begun. As a nation, we are called upon to seize this window of opportunity, and thus put behind us, “the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment.”
When we speak of the life, work and thought of umam’ uWinnie, we cannot but speak of the unwavering desire of the South African people to be free and of the determined struggle to end oppression and exploitation in all its manifestations. There are few individuals in our history who embody this desire more than umam’ uWinnie, whose singular contribution to the cause of freedom will be felt for generations to come.
Mam’ uWinnie has left a rich legacy that will forever occupy a superior echelon within our minds and our hearts. Not only did she struggle against the injustices of her time, but she established the foundation for a democratic future. Though she would be the last to admit it, in many senses she is the architect of our freedom. She led us to the threshold of our democracy. It remains a source of great pride that she did live long enough to finally cast her vote (many times) for a government, based on the will of all the people.
We nevertheless draw comfort from the fact that the vision to which she dedicated her life – of a free and democratic society – remains at the centre of everything we do. The values that she espoused and the qualities she possessed, continue to inspire and motivate us.
Mam’ uWinnie was among the first leaders of the ANC to champion the empowerment of women. She understood that South Africa could not be free, until its women were free. Her firm and principled stance, sometimes placed her at odds with prevailing attitudes and cultural norms. Yet, she never relented. Like her, we should never relent.
Comrade Winnie was a unifier. She understood that nothing of value could be achieved, unless we were united in our efforts. Even during periods of great danger and great difficulty, when it seemed that the centre would not hold, she worked tirelessly to ensure that the movement and the people remained united and focused.
Speaking of hardship she had endured, mam’ uWinnie candidly revealed that she had overcome fear. She said: “the years of imprisonment hardened me.... Perhaps if you have been given a moment to hold back and wait for the next blow, your emotions wouldn't be blunted as they have been in my case. When it happens every day of your life, when that pain becomes a way of life, I no longer have the emotion of fear…, there is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn't any pain I haven't known.”
As we grapple with the challenges of the present, we would be well advised to draw on the inspiring life of mam’ uWinnie. In short, she sought to create a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa, of which we enjoy today.
More than any other epoch in history, we solely need to revive the promise of freedom. We need to galvanise all sectors of society around a common vision. We solely need leaders who will inspire, affirm, and encourage all South Africans to work for the common good of the Republic. We must give our people hope for a better tomorrow. We must surrender our very being to the prosecution of the second phase of democratic transition: economic emancipation of our people from the bondage of the colonial apartheid economics.
In conclusion, let all of us who live, say that while we live, the ideals for which umam’ uNomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived, sacrificed and died will not die!