Mme Ruth Mompati: A Mother and a Daughter of Africa
Members of the Mompati family
Colleagues in the Cabinet
Senior Government Officials
Members of the Media
Comrades and Friends
Programme Director, comrades and friends, the founding Mother of our democracy has departed. A colossal figure in the protracted anti-apartheid struggle is no more. A giant Baboob Tree has fallen. Mme Ruth Mompati was a mother, a teacher, a leader, a fighter and above all a revolutionary par excellence.
The African National Congress Women’s League and the entire ANC family are today left poorer as Mme Ruth Mompati has departed. Some of us who had a privilege and honour of serving with her in the various structures of our glorious movement, the ANC we can say without any fear of contradictions that she was a true servant of the people. To many she was a political mentor, a confidante, a friend and above all else a disciplined cadre of the people’s movement, the ANC.
Programme Director I am talking here about a woman who not only took up arms against the apartheid regime but also played a pivotal role in helping to define the political and social fabric of a post- apartheid South Africa.
On behalf of our Government, the people of South Africa and the African National Congress, we send our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the Mompati family. Equally, we send our deepest sympathies to her Vryburg (Naledi) community that she loved so much and dedicated the remaining part of her life to it. We hasten to heartily thank you for having lent us your daughter. She was indeed one of a kind. We are indeed poorer without her. However, the Mompati family must take solace in that your loss is shared across the length and breadth of our beautiful land, the continent of Africa and world.
Mme Mompati was a true African and an internationalist in her political outlook. She once declared as follows:
"I am hoping that in the emerging new society, African ideals and values that have been thrust aside under the impact of industrialisation and Western culture will again be given a chance to be evaluated. There is something within African culture that needs to be rediscovered. It is in the souls of African people. It is part of our roots. It can be resurrected. It can help save the nation. I truly believe that all people in our country can be better people by drawing into themselves some of the values of Africa. It is a very important thing for me to be African. I never forgot that I was a daughter of Africa. It is what saw me through the darkest days of exile."
If we had internalised Mme Mompati’s wise words, the sad chapter of the recent xenophobic attacks would not have happened.
Mme Mompati was also an ardent fighter for women rights which she correctly believed to be intertwined with the broader project of defeating apartheid and attaining true liberation. She told an interviewer thus:
“We cannot separate women's liberation from national liberation. It is wrong for women to focus on their rights in some individual, bourgeois sense, as if this can be separated from the national question. To have equal rights in the ANC, or any other organisation, and to continue to be a victim of apartheid does not really help black women. For me, national liberation is a prerequisite for women's liberation.”
Sadly, Comrade Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mme Mompati died in the early hours of the 12th May in a Cape Town Hospital following a long illness. She was 89 years old. Comrade Mme Mompati’s departure comes hardly a month after our country celebrated its 21st birthday. We are indeed glad that Mme Mompati lived long enough to witness South Africa coming of age. Our country and her people have been highly enriched by the presence and leadership of Comrade Mme Mompati.
Mme Mompati played an indelible role in both the liberation and development of our country, and to her and her generation we owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. She leaves behind a proud legacy of steadfastness, resilience and selflessness. We will remember her for her exceptional and outstanding contribution and sacrifice to the liberation struggle.
Therefore Programme Director, as I stand before you today, to eulogise about Mme Mompati, I caution that we do not to mourn her departure but we must celebrate, “a life well lived in the service of humanity.” Today is rather a thanksgiving for a life well lived in the service of humanity. This offers us mere mortals an opportunity to say thank you to a Mother and a Daughter of Africa who had emptied herself for her people. She had given us life's greatest treasures; love, values, education, principles and a name that was worth its weight in gold.
Programme Director, we must reiterate that Comrade Mme Mompati was member and leader of the African National Congress. She dedicated her entire life to the struggle for the liberation of her people and the people of the world. Mme Mompati’s humility, compassion and humanity earned her the love and respect of the people of South Africa, Africa and the World. Her abiding vision was for a society where no person was exploited, oppressed or despised by another. Her life was dedicated to the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa and a just world order. It was therefore a fitting tribute to this colossal figure that in 2014, the African National Congress bestowed on her the Highest Honour i.e. Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe Award in recognition of her lifelong service to the people of South Africa.
Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe is the highest honour awarded by the ANC to those who have made an outstanding contribution and sacrifice to the liberation struggle. Isithwalandwe, literally translated, means "the one who wears the plumes of the rare bird" and was traditionally bestowed only on the bravest warriors of the people, and on those who distinguished themselves in the eyes of all the people for exceptional qualities of leadership and heroism. Mme Mompati’s compassion, humility, selflessness and servant leadership made her a befitting recipient of this award. In line with her virtues of humility she dedicated the award to the people of South Africa.
Other notable recipients of Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe Award include such honourable and exceptional sons and daughters of the African soil such as Chief Albert Luthuli (the first African Nobel Peace Prize Laureate), former President Nelson Mandela, Gertrude Shope, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Father Trevor Huddleston amongst many other luminaries of our liberation struggle.
It was this selfless service, Programme Director and Comrades that earned her the recognition as a true selfless servant of the people the many accolades bestowed upon her including the renaming of the North West Province district of Bophirima after her as it is now known as Dr Ruth Mme Mompati District Municipality. She was also granted an honorary Master’s degree in education by the North West University and an honorary doctorate by Medunsa.
Looking Back at the Life of a Legend
Ruth Mompati was born on 14 September 1925 in the village called Khanyesa in the North West Province. She was the daughter of Seli Seichoko and my father Khaonyatse/Gaonyatse Seichoko. She stayed in Vryburg in the North West province until she passed Standard 6. After completing standard 6, she had to work for a year in Vryburg before going to the college. She worked for a white family, looking after their child because Ruth’s father had died when she was fourteen and her mother did not have enough money to keep two children at college. She later went to Tygerkloof Teachers Training College.
She finished her primary school teacher's diploma in 1944. Then she went to teach at Dithakwaneng village, about thirty-five miles from Vryburg. She left Dithakwaneng after three years. In 1948, her mother was not very well so she decided to get a teaching post at Vryburg Higher Primary School. She was in the students’ union in Tygerberg as well as the North West District Teachers’ Union. The issues then were the conditions of teachers and salaries, as well as teaching materials for the schools.
In April 1952, Ruth got married. Her husband was the nephew of the Reverend Mogorosi, who was the minister of the LMSC in Khanyesa. She left Vryburg and went to Johannesburg to stay with her mother-in-law. She also left teaching. She went to a private school to study shorthand and typing. Then her neighbour, Mrs Njiwa, who was working at Mandela and Tambo law firm, wanted to go and study medicine. When her neighbour left Mandela and Tambo law firm, Ruth applied and she got the job. Ruth’s husband was a member of the African National Congress (ANC).
In 1954, she joined the African National Congress and was subsequently elected to the National Executive Committee of the Women`s League.
Mme Mompati was involved in the Defiance Campaign in 1952 and a founding member of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954.
She was later one of the leaders of the historic Women`s March on the 9th August 1956.
She went into exile in 1962 where she underwent military training and held office as Secretary and Head of the Women`s section of the ANC in Tanzania. From 1966 to 1973, Mme Mompati remained a member of the ANC`s National Executive Committee. During this time, she also formed part of the President`s office of the ANC.
One of Mme Mompati’s more prominent roles is the one she played as the head of the ANC’s Board of Religious Affairs. Between 1981 and 1982, Mme Mompati served as the chief representative of the ANC in the United Kingdom. For years she was the only female member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC and at the first meeting between the government and the ANC at Groote Schuur in 1990 she was one of only two women present—the other being Comrade Cheryl Carolus.
On 10 August 1992, a day after the anniversary of the historic Women’s March to Pretoria in 1956, she addressed the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid in New York on the subject of women. The day was then declared an International Day of Solidarity with Women in South Africa.
In 1994, she was elected a member of parliament in the National Assembly. After her stint in the National Assembly she was appointed ambassador to Switzerland from 1996 to 2000. Upon her return from Switzerland she became the mayor of Vryburg (Naledi) in the North-West Province for ten years which was later renamed in her honour. She also served as an Executive Member of Umkhonto WeSizwe Military Veteran`s Association.
In conclusion, we cannot talk about Mme Mompati without other colossal figures such as Rahima Moosa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and Sophie Williams amongst others. Mme Mompati’s demise marks an end of a golden era. It is up to this generation born in a free and democratic South Africa to pick up the spear and champion the second phase of our transition characterised by among others, the radical transformation of our economy.
We owe it to Mme Mompati and her generation to be on the right side of history through unapologetically continuing to champion the values and principles that she lived and died for. Our task as revolutionaries in the 21st century is to take the last mile towards the economic liberation and total emancipation of women and girl children in our lifetime.
Robala Ka Kgotso Mmrona
Lala Ngoxolo Ntombi Endala
May Mme Mompati’s soul rest in eternal peace!!!
I thank you.