‘Too often, we were not there for her’
Delivering the eulogy at the funeral service on Saturday, President CYRIL RAMAPHOSA revealed that he had a conversation with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela shortly before she died in which she spoke of her desire for unity and the renewal not only of the ANC, but of the nation. Here is his prepared speech.
We gather here to bid farewell to Mam’ Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela Mandela – a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, a sister, a great leader who we have come to refer to as the Mother of our Nation. Just as we are burdened by the sorrow of her death, so too are we comforted by the richness and profound meaning of her life. The pain we carry in our hearts cannot be extinguished. Nor should we be denied our joy in recalling the life of so wondrous a person. We gather here not only to pay our final respects to a great African woman, but to affirm the common humanity that, through her life, she revealed in us. Her life was dedicated to the unity of the daughters and sons of the African soil. Her life was dedicated to the unity of the oppressed of all nations. In death, she has brought us all together, from near and far, across many nations and continents, to mourn, to pay homage, to remember and to fondly reminisce. In death, she has demonstrated that our many differences along political party and racial lines and the numerous disputes we may have are eclipsed by our shared desire to follow her lead in building a just, equitable and caring society. Hers was a life of service. It was a life of compassion. She chose as her vocation the alleviation of the suffering of others. She trained and worked as one who provides support and care and comfort to those most deeply affected by poverty, hunger and illness. Yet, like many of the great leaders of her generation, she understood that the suffering she encountered did not happen on the edges of society. Such suffering defined society. She saw for herself the deliberate intent of the apartheid rulers to impoverish the people of this country. Her conscience, her convictions, left her with no choice but to resist. She felt compelled to join a struggle that was as noble in its purpose as it was perilous in its execution. She felt compelled to speak when others were rendered silent. She felt compelled to organise, to mobilise, to lead when those who led our people had been sent across the bay to the Island, whilst others were forced to flee beyond our borders or were martyred by a state that knew no mercy. She felt compelled to pick up the spear where it had fallen. It was a spear that, throughout the darkest moments of our struggle, she wielded with great courage, unequivocal commitment and incredible skill. Her formidable will was matched by a keen political sense and a presence that inspired both awe and admiration. As a potent symbol of resistance, as the steadfast bearer of the name ‘Mandela’, she was seen by the enemy as a threat to the racist state. She was an African woman who – in her attitude, her words and her actions – defied the very premise of apartheid ideology and male superiority. Proud, defiant, articulate, she exposed the lie of apartheid. She laid bare the edifice of patriarchy. She challenged the attitudes, norms, practices and social institutions that perpetuated – in ways both brutal and subtle – the inferior status of women. Loudly and without apology, she spoke truth to power. And it was those in power who, insecure and fearful, visited upon her the most vindictive and callous retribution. Yet, through everything, she endured. They could not break her. They could not silence her. After Nelson Mandela was jailed, she said: “They think, because they have put my husband on an island, that he will be forgotten. They are wrong. The harder they try to silence him, the louder I will become!”. And she became evermore so bold and loud. They thought they could ‘banish’ her to Brandfort. They miscalculated greatly because in truth,they sent her to live among her people – to share in their trials, tribulations and hardships, to share their hopes and aspirations, and to draw courage from their daily struggle against the tyranny of racial subjugation. The enemy expected her to return from Brandfort diminished, broken and defeated. They expected her to succumb to the excruciating pressure of years of solitary confinement, harassment and vilification. Instead, she emerged from these torments emboldened, driven by a burning desire to give voice to the aspirations of her people. To give them hope. To give them courage. To lead them to freedom. It was not long ago that we celebrated with Mama Winnie her 80th birthday. On that occasion, we recited the poem by Maya Angelou, “And still I rise”. It is only fitting that we should do so again today, for Maya Angelou could easily have written this poem to describe Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life. You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may tread me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I'll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops. Weakened by my soulful cries. Does my haughtiness offend you? Don't you take it awful hard? 'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines Diggin' in my own back yard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I've got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history's shame I rise Up from a past that's rooted in pain I rise I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise”. Like so many of our people she has lived with fear, pain, loss and disappointment. And yet each day she rose with the nobleness of the human spirit. They sought to denigrate her with bitter and twisted lies, but still she rose. They wanted to see her broken, with bowed head and lowered eyes, and weakened by soulful cries, but still she rose. As we bid her farewell, we are forced to admit that too often as she rose, she rose alone. Too often, we were not there for her. The day after she died, the ANC’s top six leaders went to her home to pay our condolences to her family. Zenani Mandela, reflecting on her mother’s life and overcome by emotion, said: “My mother suffered. She had a very difficult life.” Then she burst into tears. That statement and those tears have stayed with me since that day. Zenani’s tears revealed Mam’ Winnie’s wounds. It brought to mind the moment when Jesus said to the apostle Thomas as recorded in the book of John 20:27: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” In essence, Jesus was saying to the apostle: “Touch my wounds.” During this period of mourning many South Africans have been touching Mam’ Winnie’s wounds. It ought to have been done long ago. For she wore the gaping wounds of her people. She had been left to tend her wounds on her own for most of her life. Left alone to fend for herself only caused her more pain. But she touched our wounds all the time. When we lost our loved ones, when people were in pain, overcome with anger, prone to violence, she came to touch our wounds. She bore witness to our suffering. She bandaged our wounds. We did not do the same for her. In her book ‘Part of My Soul Went with Him’, she wrote: “I have ceased a long time ago to exist as an individual. The ideals, the political goals that I stand for, those are the ideals and goals of the people in this country. They cannot just forget their own ideas. My private self doesn’t exist. Whatever they do to me, they do to the people in the country. I am and will always be only a political barometer. “From every situation I have found myself in, you can read the political heat in the country at a particular time. When they send me into exile, it’s not me as an individual they are sending. They think that with me they can also ban the political ideas. But that is a historical impossibility. They will never succeed in doing that. I am of no importance to them as an individual. What I stand for is what they want to banish. I couldn’t think of a greater honour.” Her healing from the deep wounds inflicted on her was incomplete. We must continue to touch Mama’s wounds, acknowledge her immense pain and torment, and pass on the stories of her suffering to future generations so that it may always be known that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a giant, a pathfinder, a soldier, a healer, a champion of people’s struggles and forever the Mother of the Nation. We must also recognise our own wounds as a nation. We must acknowledge that we are a society that is hurting, damaged by our past, numbed by our present and hesitant about our future. This may explain why we are easily prone to anger and violence. Many people saw Mam’ Winnie as their mother because her own wounds made her real and easy to relate to. It is only when you experience real pain yourself that you can recognise it in others and offer comfort. That is what Mam’ Winnie did for decades, particularly when she stood alone as a bulwark against the apartheid regime, when she wiped away people’s tears, carried their coffins and inspired violence-fatigued communities to carry on. Mam’ Winnie was a witness to the truths and horrors of our nation, not only because of her own hardships but because of her courage. Like the women who went to Jesus’s tomb after the men ran away, she was perpetually in the trenches, never afraid that it would be too much for her to bear. When it was safe to do so, the men took over again and the women were relegated to a supporting role. Mam’ Winnie provided leadership at the most difficult periods and sought no reward. Like women throughout our society do every day, she toiled and never claimed glory. Mam’ Winnie was universal and timeless. As we continue to touch her wounds, we must be brave enough to share her life and legacy across our society and with the people she loved. Shortly before her death, we had a conversation about her concerns, her worries and her wishes. She spoke of her deep desire for unity and the renewal not only of the movement that she loved dearly, but of the nation. She wanted a South African nation that would heal the divisions of the past and eradicate the inequality and injustice of the present. She wanted us to honour the commitment in the Freedom Charter that the people should share in the country’s wealth and that the land should be shared amongst those who work it and be returned. She spoke of many thoughts she had about how the revolutionary ideals and morality of her movement should be restored and not be undermined by corruption and self-enrichment. Just as Mam’ Winnie has united us in sorrow, let us honour her memory by uniting in common purpose. Let us honour her memory by pledging here that we will dedicate all our resources, all our efforts, all our energy to the empowerment of the poor and vulnerable. Let us honour her memory by pledging here that we will not betray the trust of her people, we will not squander or steal their resources, and that we will serve them diligently and selflessly. The Mother of the Nation has died, but she is not gone. She lives on in the young girl who today still walks the dusty streets of Mbongweni, resolute that her life will not be defined by the poverty into which she was born, nor constrained by the attitudes to women that seek to demean her existence. She lives on in the domestic worker who is determined that the suffering and sacrifice of her many years of servitude will not be visited on her children. She lives on in the prisoner who regrets his choices as much as he bemoans his circumstances, who dearly seeks another chance to make a better life for his family. She lives on in the engineer, who has defied discrimination and prejudice to build a career for herself in a field so long reserved for a privileged few. She lives on in the social worker who tends to those in society who are neglected and abused, asking nothing for himself but the opportunity to serve. She lives on in the Palestinian teenager who refuses to stand by as he is stripped of his home, his heritage and his prospects for a peaceful, content and dignified life. She lives on in the African-American woman, who though she lives in a country of great prosperity and progress, is still weighed down by the accumulated prejudice of generations. She lives on even in the conscience of the apartheid security policeman who has yet to atone for his murderous ways, but whose humanity she sought to salvage and whose dignity she fought to restore. She lives on in the movement to which she dedicated her life, as it seeks its way back to the path along which she led it. She lives on in the nation that called her ‘Mama’, as it strives each day to fulfil its destiny as a united, peaceful, prosperous and just society. Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has died, but she is not gone. She lives on in all of us. She inspires our actions. She guides our struggles. She remains our conscience. May her soul rest in eternal peace. May her spirit live forever. Lala ngoxolo Nobantu, Ngutyana. Phapha. Makhalendlovu Msuthu. Msengetwa qhawe lama qhawe. I thank you. DM This is a copy of the prepared speech Cyril Ramaphosa delivered at the funeral service of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the Orlando Stadium on Saturday, 14 April, 2018.
Photo: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the eulogy at the funeral service of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on 14 April, 2018.