Just over a week ago our country was shattered by the devastating news of the passing away of Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela whom we befittingly and affectionately referred to as the Mother of the Nation.
Symbolic of her own special place in our struggle for freedom, justice and equality, Mama Winnie took her last breath right at the beginning of the month of April; a month of massive historical significance in the political life of our country.
It was on this month that the seeds of colonialism and apartheid were planted with the arrival of Jan Van Riebeeck and his troops in 1652. It was on this very month three hundred and forty two years later in 1994 that the big tree of apartheid colonialism was finally uprooted and the oppressed people of South Africa won their freedom.
In the intervening period, we lost many freedom fighters whose only sin was to defy and undermine the unjust laws of the apartheid regime by boldly asserting that they too were human.
Even in this regard, the month of April imposed its political significance by claiming among these freedom fighters the most celebrated giants of our revolution.
We remember and pay tribute to Chris Thembisile Hani whose life was brutally cut short by unrepentant apartheid apologists exactly twenty five years ago today. Comrade Chris was indeed a fearless revolutionary whose radical ideas made the apartheid regime very uncomfortable.
We continue to draw inspiration from him as we pursue our programme of radical socio-economic transformation.
We also remember the gallant Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu who never betrayed the cause of freedom even when quite literally confronted with death.
We pay homage to the unparalleled icon of our struggle who also hails from Bizana, our longest serving President, Isithwalandwe Oliver Reginald Tambo. The spirit of President Tambo continues to guide us as we are seized with efforts to build a renewed, united and totally cohesive ANC that is best placed to serve the interests of the South African people as a whole.
In recognition of the role Mama Winnie played in building the ANC and our nation, we have gathered here to make an unequivocal statement that whilst we mourn her passing, we also celebrate her life because it was a life well lived and selflessly dedicated to the improvement of the conditions of others.
Mama Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela was a product of her time. She joined the ANC and became an activist at a time when the generation before her, that of Nelson Mandela and others, had successfully propelled the ANC onto a higher terrain of struggle.
She was inducted into the radical politics of defiance and non-cooperation with the apartheid regime. She was from the onset part of determined forces of resistance who understood that pacifism was not the answer to repression.
She believed quite correctly that freedom would have to be fought for and achieved; and that the methods of struggle chosen by our democratic movement would always have to be commensurate with the strategies employed by the enemy to effect oppression.
Her actions were therefore at all times informed by her commitment to enhance the capacity of our movement to fight effectively against apartheid and eliminate anything that threatens to weaken that capacity.
Learning from her and in respect of the current context, we have mobilized all democratic forces to do everything possible to enhance our capacity to fight effectively against poverty, unemployment and inequality; and to eliminate anything that threatens to weaken that capacity, including selfish acts of grand corruption and state capture.
I am making this point about Mama Winnie being a product of her time because there are some within our borders and beyond who have sought to demonize her character, even in death, by referring to what they deem to be massive excesses in her praxis of the revolutionary struggle against apartheid.
I could not find a better response to these critics than the words of the German revolutionary Bertolt Brecht.
Writing in his poem titled “To Posterity,” Brecht advises the generations that will come after him as follows:
“You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.
For we went, changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.
For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.
But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do no judge us
Comrades and Friends
Mama Winnie will always have a special place in our hearts. She has made an indelible mark in the life of our nation. She was a symbol of hope to all the oppressed and a source of courage for those who wanted to fight against injustice.
She was there on the home front with the different generations of youth who kept the flames of freedom burning when the apartheid regime thought it forced the liberation movement into a state of lull.
She was there in the 70s taking advantage of the energies of the youth and guiding a generation that would later change the course of our history for good.
She was there to harness the anger and impatience of young people by recruiting them into the ranks of Umkhonto Wesizwe. These are the young people who made up the heroic June 16 Detachment to which Solomon Mahlangu belonged.
She was there to lend a hand and offer all the necessary political support when pupils who wanted to unambiguously associate themselves with the Congress Movement founded the Congress of South African Students. It is no surprise therefore that COSAS made her its honourary and lifetime President.
In the 80s, Mama Winnie continued to work with young people on the ground to up the ante against the increasingly murderous apartheid regime.
She played a significant role in ensuring that young people of our country respond positively when the call was made by President OR Tambo to make South Africa ungovernable and apartheid unworkable.
She inspired many of the actions of the death defying young lions of Oliver Tambo which accelerated the fall of the apartheid regime.
Mama Winnie was there to inspire the student movement in our country led by SASCO and its predecessors SANSCO and AZASO to play a bigger role in opposing apartheid.
Her role in the processes to dissolve SAYCO and re-launch the ANC Youth League in 1990 cannot be overemphasized.
She continued to inspire the militancy of the Youth League even after the 1994 democratic breakthrough with the intention only to communicate to the ANC that it is not yet Uhuru and that the struggle continues.
When the political reasoning of the Youth League came into conflict with that of the leadership of the ANC a few years back, she was there on the side of young people because she genuinely believed that the contradictions brought about by the Youth League were consistent with the history of the ANC and necessary for a forward movement.
The point I am making here is that Mama Winnie was always on the side of the youth. Because of her age-defying militancy, she identified more with the radicalism and impetuousness of the youth than with the conservatism associated with many of her age.
It was this relationship she had with the youth in struggle that correctly earned her the title “Mother of the Nation.”
Mama Winnie endured a lot of pain that was visited upon her for nothing other than opposing and fighting against apartheid.
The apartheid regime sought to break her spirit by constantly harassing her family, subjecting her to the worst forms of torture, detaining her without trial, putting her in solitary confinement, banishing her to a place far away from her home and imposing on her a long distance relationship with her husband and children.
But consistent with the character of the generation of defiant and resilient men and women from which she came, Mama Winnie’s spirit was never broken. She emerged out of every situation meant to break her even stronger.
Not once did she succumb to that persistent inner voice that always, in fear of pain and loneliness, offers the unsolicited advice that one must hang up their boots and live to fight another day.
She instead stubbornly chose the path that put her firmly on a collision course with the apartheid regime, daring them to do their worst, proclaiming the fear of nothing, determined to die with her boots on and asserting on every available platform that her people must not lose hope because the cause of freedom shall surely triumph.
Mama Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela was also a symbol of women’s emancipation. Throughout her life as a political activist, she did not conform to the politics of respectability and sexist gender roles.
She did not see women as inferior to men by any measure. She inspired many women to fight against the patriarchal relations of power even within her own movement, the ANC.
The resolution of the ANC at the Polokwane conference to have equal representation of both men and women in all leadership structures, popularly known as the 50/50 policy, came as a result of women’s struggles over many years. Mama Winnie played no small part in this struggle especially in her role as President of the ANC Women’s League.
She was a true Mbokodo who did everything in her power to advance and defend the cause of women.
In her honour, we call upon especially young women to take the baton and organize themselves in order to confront all the social ills that continue to oppress them on the basis of their gender.
We also call upon the men in our society to say NO to the abuse of women and to denounce and abandon backward patriarchal attitudes towards women.
We are proud that as she departs, Mama Winnie was very happy about some of the resolutions we took at our 54th National Conference. She was particularly happy about the resolutions that form the backbone of our programme of radical economic transformation such as the expropriation of land without compensation.
We are determined to correct the original sin of the violent dispossession of our people’s land and its wealth. We are cognisant of the fact that Mama Winnie will only rest in peace if we restore the dignity of our people by ensuring that they have an equal claim to the land of their birth. I want to assure all and sundry that on this, we will not retreat.
As we continue honouring her legacy, we must seek to emulate her by being honest and hard working servants of the people of South Africa.
Like Mama Winnie, we must have the courage to speak truth to power when we see that things are clearly going wrong.
We must work to renew and unite the ANC and make it the effective instrument of transformation Mama Winnie wanted it to be.
I thank you.
Cde Cyril Ramaphosa is the President of the African National Congress