Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela was a leader of our people and international icon whose impact and her reach is reflected in the diversity of humanity who celebrate her life and honour her contribution, reflective of a national movement that evolved over time into a global struggle.
As a young activist, Mam Winnie herself drew inspiration from women who had forced open doors and pathways that had been reserved for men – even within our own Movement in the early years of her life.
She therefore fought internal and societal patriarchy to champion the cause – not just of women – but of all oppressed South Africans and oppressed peoples around the world.
Comrade Winnie was the human face of globalisation even before we knew this word.
She was born in 1936 – a year that produced such notable comrades as the Cape Town artist Lionel Davis and Dr Neville Alexander.
But,1936 was also a year that produced FW de Klerk, against whom Mam Winnie would wage countless and fearless campaigns that helped to bring down the curtain on apartheid, while Madiba and our leadership remained incarcerated and later in negotiations.
Born into a large family of nine children, Mam Winnie benefited from the high value her rural Eastern Cape family attached to education. With her father, Columbus, as a history teacher and her mother, Nomathamsanqa, the young Winnie Madikizela was herself guided towards studying towards a profession.
She elected social work, not because of what it would do for her, but because of what it would for the poor South Africans among whom she lived and dwelt.
She saw social work as a medium to uplift poor people and give people a voice of her own.
Giving people a voice of their own became her life’s mission, professionally and politically.
Mam Winnie did not think of this as leadership. She thought of this as service. It was just something she did. But it proved to be something that could change an entire society.
Her commitment and charisma also shape a man who would go on to play a major role in our history and in the history of the world.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela found the perfect transformational and revolutionary soulmate in the young Winnie Madikizela when they met in a happy coincidence of circumstance and content.
Both were on a path to bring into being the South Africa in which all South Africans, black and white, enjoy a better life today.
This was a path of personal sacrifice and patriotic struggle; a path of pain, of conflict, of resistance, and of foregoing many of the joys and comforts that accompany family life.
It was a path Mam Winnie walked in the glare of news media in the days before social media. It was in this same blaze of publicity that the shameless and merciless apartheid state persecuted and prosecuted Mam Winnie and her comrades.
Following the Rivonia Trial and the incarceration of our leadership, Mam Winnie – through no design of her own – became the face of our Struggle.
She kept the home fires burning, both in terms of her maternal role and in terms of rendering the country ungovernable by the apartheid authorities.
She stood strong and kept singing, marching, mobilising and fighting in the face of banishment to Brandfort; in the face of more than a year of solitary confinement at The Fort (now home to our Constitutional Court) and in the face of torture and attempts at humiliation.
Together with countless generations, including the women of 1956, some of whom including Mme Sophie De Bruyn are still at our side, they pioneered and sustained the traditions of selfless service of our movement.
Working tirelessly alongside many other powerful and brave women and men in the trenches of our struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s, Mam Winnie nevertheless became the poster woman for our Congress, for courage, for consistency, for clarity and for commitment.
Her commitment spanned our struggle era and our democratic dispensation, in which she served as a vociferous Member of Parliament and d Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture.
Her championship of the cause of land restitution and reform is a championship that was interrupted only by her passing away last Monday.
Today, Mam Winnie, the ANC gives thanks to you for being unwavering in your activism and unbowed in the face of repression.
We say thanks for your years of patriotic service to the ANC, to the United Democratic Front, to the Women’s League and to so many other collectives that bear the imprint of your personality and ideology.
We thank the many fraternal organisations who are with us today and whose support of our struggle in their own countries concerntrated global attention on the plight of black South Africans under apartheid.
We say thank you to the Madikizela and Mandela families who were deprived of a constant presence during Mam Winnie’s decades of focus on the plight of others around her and the plight of downtrodden and oppressed communities all over South Africa.
We also remember and pay homage to other mothers such as Comrades Limpho Hani and the family of Solomon Mahlangu who felt brutally and bloodily the mercilessness of the apartheid state.
We say thank you to the millions of South Africans who are mourning with us across the spectrum of race, colour and class, to acknowledging the passing of a truly great South African.
As we mourn Mam Winnie’s passing, we cast our gaze ahead to the Winnie Madikizela-Mandelas – black and white – who must fight our Mother’s fight in years and generations to come.
South Africa’s transformation is not complete, and we therefore look to a new generation of young women – and young men – to advance the causes in which Mam Winnie led us so capably and forcefully.
The resolutions of the ANC’s 54th National Conference held in December 2017, are a fitting tribute to her especially the far reaching decisions on land redistribution and transformation of the economy. It is incumbent upon us to remember and mark her remarkable life by ensuring their full implementation to the benefit of all South Africans, the majority of whom are poor, African and female.
Mam Winnie’s life remains a blueprint for activism in the 21st Century, because no matter what technology we are able to employ today to realise the vision of our Freedom Charter, our Constitution and our National Development Plan, activism and struggle must come from the heart, not the hardware.
Our activism must be fundamentally rooted in our concern for humanity and community. It must be rooted in our understanding of the challenges that face our country, our region, our continent and the world. And it must be rooted in wanting to make a difference; not a difference in our personal circumstances, but a difference in our communities and the wider world.
We will miss that unique blend of fiery militancy and charming friendship that characterised Mam Winnie. We will also miss her inner beauty and outward attractiveness.
We will miss her inspiration; her sense of principle; her ability to innovate and adapt in the face of adversity; her ability to establish a community clinic in a place of banishment, as she did in Brandfort.
But for all the attributes we will miss, we will be comforted by her legacy of a better South Africa in a better world.
We will be comforted by the rights we have won and the transformation we have effected using these rights.
We will be comforted by knowing that Mam Winnie had not resisted, fought, struggled, embraced and reconciled in vain.
We will be comforted by knowing that while her voice has grown silent, the voice of the previously voiceless will ring out across our country as continue to move South Africa forward.
We look forward to 2019 as a year not just of contestation but a year of advancing the values and vision for which Mam Winnie stood.
Today, all of us will find ourselves moving back and forth between celebration and mourning; between reliving the pain and the inspiration that was a part of Mam Winnie’s life, and between reflecting on her life and reflecting on our own.
Most of all, I hope we will grasp this national period of mourning as a moment to rededicate ourselves to completing the many revolutionary tasks Mam Winnie began in her own lifetime and left for us to complete.
Cde Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the African National Congress