I am still numb due to the devastating news that my mother, comrade, mentor and leader is no more. As days go by I seem not to shake off this niggling feeling that it is just a dream as the larger-than-life Mama Winnie is one not to die. However, there is one part of me that also tells me that, in as much as she defied death on a number of occasions, she is also mortal. Still, the reality has not sunk and I am living with the hope that I will one more time see the smile on the glowing face of Mama Winnie and I will hear that infectious laughter of a loving mother and a gallant fighter for freedom and democracy.
I am shattered as I had always looked forward to one of those immemorial and priceless opportunity to draw from your well of wisdom and courage especially given the challenges that our movement, the African National Congress and our country are facing. Mama Winnie, you are one of a kind. A true revolutionary that stood steadfastly for justice, equality and freedom for all. You were forthright and principled. Whilst facing adversity, like a true lioness, you did not only stubbornly fended off attacks on your children (and these include some of us) but charged forward in pursuit of a better life for all our people. You epitomized selflessness as you would not mind putting your life on the line for the freedom of others.
Your motherly love and instincts were unmistakable as you would take care of not only your children but everyone who needed care as though they are children of your own. Indeed, you are a Baobab tree that provided protection from the scorching African sun and other unforgiving elements. Never one to retreat, you would confront the apartheid regime and its surrogates with an untold fearlessness and vigour and this is what inspired old and young to pick up the spear when liberation movements were banned, leaders detained or imprisoned or even forced into exile.
Whilst distressed, I take solace in the rich legacy you have left us. A legacy of selflessness, altruism and service to our people that we need to promote and preserve. You stood steadfast and your commitment and dedication to the struggle against the inhuman apartheid colonialism and for freedom and democracy was unshakeable. This is a characteristic that made you to survive persecution, detentions, banishment and even vilification. You never retreated, you were never broken no matter how hard the apartheid regime tried to break your spirit and you knew no surrender as you led, from the front, battles against the racist police and army who at most times turned our townships and villages into military and police barracks.
A community builder at heart, Mama Winnie was always on the look out for opportunities to develop her community. Adversity notwithstanding, you created an opportunity to uplift that community when you were banished to Brandfort. It is no coincidence that you studied social work as your life was about the welfare of your people. You served our people a social worker, albeit for a short while due to continued repression, with distinction. As fate would have it, you were drawn into active politics when it became almost impossible for you to continue practicing as a social worker due to apartheid police harassment.
Having cut her political teeth in women struggles against the repressive pass laws, Mama Winnie dedicated her entire life to the struggles against apartheid and for freedom and democracy. The more the repression, the more committed she became and the sentencing of Cde Nelson Mandela and other leaders to life imprisonment on Robben Island only served to sharpen her resolve to liberate her people. You became one of the most vociferous voice for the release of political prisoners hence the Release Mandela Campaign gained traction internationally to the point where the apartheid regime could not ignore the clamour for the release of Cde Madiba and other political prisoners.
Your fiery nature and unmistakable defiance in the face of repression angered the racist regime as their relentless efforts failed to crush your revolutionary spirit. It is not surprising that your modest Brandfort house was petrol bombed and no one has ever been arrested or even charged for that crime. You took this desperate attempt to cow you into submission in your strides hence you decided to come back home to Soweto in a courageous and open defiance to one of the most ruthless regime in history. Your defiance continued unabated as you ignored your banning order and spoke at public gatherings and to the international media and this galvanized our people into action against a system that the world declared a crime against humanity.
Your contribution to our liberation struggle continued as you led countless mass actions that led to our country becoming ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable. Even beyond the democratic breakthrough in 1994 you continued to contribute towards the transformation of our country. With an incisive mind and brutal honesty, you spoke your mind having no regard to the consequences of your honesty and forthrightness.
The outpouring of love that our country is demonstrating since your passing bears testimony to your selflessness and commitment to serving our people. Indeed, you loved your people and you were always there with us.
Your life is and will remain an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived and to all who are opposed to oppression, injustice and deprivation. You are a symbol of the struggle against apartheid and all forms of racism an inequality; the gallant fighter against patriarchy and for equality and the hero of African liberation. We will miss you but we take solace in the legacy of love, giving and selfless service that you left.
As we bid you farewell, we will remember your courageous and inspiring words when you said: “I shall never lose hope and my people shall never lose hope”.
Indeed, Mama we shall never lose hope. We shall fight until all South Africans have a better life.
Lala ngoxolo qhawe la maqhawe!
Cde Paul Mashatile is the Treasurer General of the African National Congress