Igama lama khozikazi..!
Long live the spirit of Mama Nomzamo Winnie Mandela Long Live! Long Live the African National Congress, Long Live!
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is an honour to be amongst you today at this special Women’s Prayer Service to commemorate the life of our comrade, our sister, Mama Winnie Mandela. I am sure she is smiling down on us and blessing this congregation today, for we know that she was a committed Methodist and a member of uManyano.
There can be no better place to hold this prayer service and celebration of the life of Mama here in the Free State, whose brave people have played such a great role in our country’s history.
Firstly, it was here in the Free State that Mama Winnie was banished by the racist apartheid government, and where she was sheltered by the community of Majwemasweu township in Brandfort.
On a cold winter’s morning, the 16th of May 1977, following a 400km journey from her Soweto home, she was dumped with her daughter Zinzi in front of house number 802 in Majwemasweu. The house had no running water or electricity and no proper floors or ceiling and Mama, who spoke isiXhosa, couldn’t even converse with her neighbors.
Yet despite the pain of her banishment that lasted nearly ten long years, it was the community that rallied around her, helped her, and even cared for her when she was ill. They lifted her spirits, and came to embrace her as one of their own.
It was also right here, in the Free State, that our glorious movement, the African National Congress (ANC), was born on the 8th of January 1912 at the Waaihoek Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein.
This province and its faith communities, have and continue to play a key role in our country’s history, present and will no doubt continue to do so well into the future.
Our Churches have a long proud history of association with the progressive forces of change in South Africa, led by the ANC.
After all, we share a common vision, namely the realization of a prosperous, free, democratic, non-racist, non-sexist South Africa.
It was an ideal Mama fought for throughout her life. In her honor today we recommit ourselves as women (and men) of faith to assume the mantle of responsibility and take forward the struggle for a truly egalitarian South Africa.
Mama Winnie was a Sister in Christ – she was raised in the Methodist Church and remained a woman of great faith until the end.
Her Christian belief was very dear to her and it sustained and nourished her through the many, many trials and tribulations she had to face.
No doubt there were times when her faith was sorely tested. We learn for example that Mama Winnie recounts that her faith was shaken after the tragic passing of her sister and then her mother, when she was still very young.
One of her most moving quotes in an interview in 1987 illustrated this:
“"The years of imprisonment hardened me ... Perhaps if you have been given a moment to hold back and wait for the next blow, your emotions wouldn't be blunted as they have been in my case. When it happens every day of your life, when that pain becomes a way of life, I no longer have the emotion of fear... there is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn't any pain I haven't known”.
Yet it was this very faith that gave her the power to go on.
There is not one of us sitting here today who would not have undergone a time of such intense hardship that we were tempted to lose hope, to give up, and to throw in the towel.
We need only look at the Scriptures for affirmation that it is times of trial, when days are darkest – that we find our innermost strength. It is when we are most sorely tested that the voice inside us says Rise up, stand up, and be the woman that you are. Be the wife, the mother, the sister, the friend, the daughter, and the revolutionary that you are.
Say the Scriptures:
“She is strong”: Isiah 40:31
“She is valiant”: Samuel 13:28
“She is fearless”: Proverbs 31:25
Furthermore, says Proverbs 31:10
“Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away. But a woman who honors the Lord deserves to be praised. So show her respect, praise her in public for what she has done.”
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
All of these things, I repeat – all of these things, were Mama Winnie Mandela. Her worth and value cannot be quantified.
She was one of the greatest heroes of our liberation struggle and even when we attained our liberation, she lost neither her fervor nor her passion for the cause of the underdog, the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.
Hers was a life dedicated to her people, and for it she paid a huge price. She qualified as the first black social worker in Johannesburg in the 1950’s and could have gone on to a successful professional life in private practice.
Instead, she never left the side of the weak and downtrodden in our society. Even as she suffered banishment in Brandfort she was still actively involved in the community, in helping youth at risk, at feeding the hungry, at giving books away to young people thirsty for knowledge, and helping women’s organizations. She truly was the Mother of the Nation.
There are many lessons we can take from Mama’s life. We can learn about humility, about selflessness, and sacrifice. We can learn that a woman in our society can play multiple roles, as she did.
Today, thanks to the progressive policies and programmes of the ANC, and the advocacy of the ANC Women’s League, a woman can be a daughter, sister, wife and mother yes; but also a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a church leader, a community activist or a revolutionary.
Mama Winnie was an active and vocal member of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) and all of us who have had the honor and privilege of being mentored by her in the ANCWL will attest to the fact that the struggle for gender equality was one of the causes closest to her heart.
We have one of the most gender-friendly Constitutions in the entire world, and this is thanks to the activism and groundwork laid by the likes of Mama Winnie and many many others of her generation.
Among the 20 000 women who travelled the length and breadth of our country to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on the 9th of August 1956 were the daughters, wives, mothers and sisters of the Free State as well. All the women of South Africa share in the victory of our liberation from the shackles of apartheid, but also the shackles of patriarchy, sexism and gender discrimination.
Mama Winnie’s life also offers lessons in resilience and courage.
She inspired millions of our people to identify and join the struggle. She kept the fires and the flame of the revolution burning in South Africa. She was always amongst the people, and that is where her popularity gained currency and her stature. She always identified herself with the ordinary people and ordinary people in turn identified with her. That is why she was so popular in the townships and informal settlements of South Africa. Many settlements in South Africa’s urban centers are named after her or bear reference to her name.
She taught us to look after the needy and care for the vulnerable. She also worked tirelessly to advance young people and mentored many young leaders in our country.
Personally one of the valuable lessons I have taken from her is that of never ever giving up.
There can be no greater tribute to Mama Winnie than to look out over the pews as I do today and see all of you, beautiful, strong black women, young and not so young – infused with the spirit of God and fortified with the courage that we have learned from our great female leaders like Mama Winnie.
More than half a century since the Chinese leader Mao Zedong proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky” we celebrate the life of this great woman who did indeed hold us up.
She was a light in dark times. She was a beacon and a pillar of strength for all black women who have had to endure the indignity of apartheid. In her we saw what we could become, despite what the architects of apartheid told us. Mama Winnie was an extraordinary woman, but at the same time she was Everywoman.
Let us keep her memory alive and fight for a better life for All. She has taught us that from faith comes courage, and from courage comes love for one’s fellow man.
Let us not lose hope even when the road before us is long and winding and filled with obstacles.
We owe it to her. We owe it to our daughters. We owe it to ourselves.
Rest in Peace Mbokodo!
I thank you.