Farewell, Mrs Winnie Mandela — mother of the South African nation

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

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Those of us who have kept abreast of developments in South Africa since the 1960s would have their hearts sorely broken by the passing of Mrs Winnie Madikizela Mandela, one of the last great warriors and icons of the anti-apartheid movement.

Mrs Mandela died yesterday, at the age of 81, after a long illness which brought to an end the glorious era of the fighting Mandelas, but leaving behind a proud legacy of struggle against man's inhumanity to man.

She was predeceased on December 5, 2013 by her former husband, Mr Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after 27 years in prison, and whose activities ignited a global campaign to end white minority rule.

Jamaicans have a long and deep bond with South Africa, becoming the first country to apply sanctions against that racially divided country in 1957 — a move fittingly honoured by Mr Mandela with one of his first visits after being released from prison.

That decision by Jamaica, under then Premier Norman Manley, has remained one of the defining moments of our foreign policy and launched the country as a leader on the world stage.

When the Mandelas visited the island in July 1991, it was difficult to decide who was more popular, Nelson or his then wife, Winnie. Jamaicans flooded the streets of Kingston to express their unprecedented ecstasy and love for the couple.

Mrs Mandela came to the fore during the imprisonment of her husband when she won the hearts and admiration of the world for her fighting spirit, her ability to articulate the story of the anti-apartheid struggle, and provide leadership of the African National Congress (ANC).

She suffered greatly at the hands of the white minority Government, especially by the fact she was deliberately detained by the authorities every time that her children, who were forced to live abroad, came home to visit her. But she met the brutality of racial segregation with fire.

By the time her husband was set free, Mrs Mandela had been battered and bruised by the apartheid system and its ugly scars etched deep. In later years her reputation became tainted legally and politically and few were surprised that their marriage did not survive.

But as anti-apartheid activist Mosioua Lekota noted in her defence: “Those who did nothing under apartheid never made mistakes.”

We join retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Mr Desmond Tutu who praised her as a “defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid” and whose “courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me and to generations of activists”.

Winnie Mandela will be remembered as one of the great personalities of our times. She was an inspiration to women of all racial backgrounds as an enduring example of resistance to tyranny. And also to men everywhere who fight against oppression of the weak by the strong.

Farewell, Mrs Winnie Madikizela Mandela, mother of the South African nation. You have left the world a much better place than you found it.

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