“We learned to love you from the historical heights where the sun of your bravery laid siege to death… Your glorious efforts throughout the history of our liberation struggle resound like a rifle shot awakening [South Africa]”. We remembered these lyrics of tribute to Comandante Che Guevara by Cuban composer Carlos Puebla on Hasta Siempre when tributes continued to pour in the wake of MamaWinnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death.

For she is our mother. At the time the liberation movement was banned and the might of the repressive regime was gathering pace, like a mother amongst many, she rose. Not defined by another or spousal duties, she was the lodestar that provided political guidance and shelter to the youth of 1976. When the young lions took orders to make South Africa ungovernable in the 1980s, she was the channel that directed the flow of their unstoppable tide. She emphasized the value of education and centrality of communal existence and the bonds that were formed during the years of struggle under her tutelage are as strong as bonds of blood.

At one point, the policies to restrict Africans to the rural areas became covert and not enough residential areas where developed in the urban areas. Our people were forced by circumstances to live in the squatter camps without the most basic of services, she did not stay away but was there with them. She instilled in them, the spirit of resilience and perseverance. Today the people of Orange Farm, Nomzamo, Mshenguville, Kliptown amongst others have basic services, although much still needs to be done in many other informal settlements. Her unequivocal message to her party, the ANC remained that the pace of development is not fast enough for our people and much must be done faster. As she chastised the ANC for the slow pace of service delivery, in particular in the rural areas and black townships, she remained resolute that the ANC remains the only party that can deliver services for the poor. She was not only a charismatic leader but a servant leader to our people. In her, they saw themselves.

For the better part of the 1990s, the women’s movement, like the women’s movement of the 1950s, was not led from the boardrooms but the movement was at the coalface of the struggle for women emancipation. Together with her Women’s League collective, they successfully led the fight for equal representation of women and men across the sectors of society, including in leadership and governance positions. It is a pity that the women’s movement of today seems to be failing her and the women of the 1956 march, in that the quantitative representation of women has not translated into qualitative transformation of material conditions confronting majority of women and children. As the country pays glorious tribute to her, we must challenge ourselves to pick-up the spear and continue the struggle for gender emancipation, for her soul shall not rest if:

  • Every 8 hours a woman still dies in the hands of a partner or ex-partner in South Africa
  • One in five women experience violence by their partner
  • Only 1 in 4 rapes are reported and estimations remain that over 40% of women will experience rape in their lifetime. 

For us who remain within the liberation movement, we must commit ourselves to ensure that the slogan for non-sexism is not only chanted in the ANC and the broader movement but it is a lived reality of its many female members. She refused to be a victim of patriarchy but she experienced the yoke of patriarchy in our movement. In her memory and lasting honour, the movement must make a collective vow to ensure that her legacy and the lived experiences of female members do not continue to be tainted by the demon of patriarchy.

She was an embodiment of the mantra that leadership is not an act of the position one holds but the contribution one makes. She did not need a position of power to lead, either in government or the ANC. Yet she made more meaningful contribution and impact than most elected in positions of authority. She led because she was closer to the people and the people were closer to her.

As a people, we did not thank her enough for the enormous contributions and personal sacrifices she made. We did not tell her story as loudly as we should have proclaimed. Despite all we knew, we allowed the rhetoric from her detractors to resonate. Even when the countless opportunities presented, we did not express our appreciation for her whilst she was still of the land of the living.

As we continue to pay tribute to the Mother of our Nation from all corners of our country, including us in the north-most part of our Republic, Limpopo, we are again reminded of the eulogy of El Comandante Fidel Castro in tribute to his best friend and comrade, Che Guevara, “as we are gathered here, you and I, to try to express these sentiments in some ways with regard to one who was one of the most familiar, one of the most admired, one of the most beloved, and without any doubt, the most extraordinary of our comrades of the revolution, to express these sentiments to her…[who] has been writing a glorious page of history”, and for history to judge us kindly and let her soul rest in peace, her spirit must not die but Nomzamo Winne Madikizela-Mandela must multiply!     

*Cde Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is a member of the PEC of the ANC in Limpopo and Heads the Communications Sub-Committee


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