Tributes have been paid to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of the late South African anti-apartheid leader and President Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday (Monday) at the age of 81. The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, is currently in London for a meeting of the Lambeth Conference 2020 Design Group. He told ACNS: “I send my condolences to the family. I am humbled to have known her. I admired and respected her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.”
He added: “She certainly played her part with great courage. Yes she made some mistakes – but let us forgive her and honour her for what she did. She served her country and her people. When she spoke at rallies, she was so articulate, so articulate. She wasn’t scared at all.”
Abp Thabo got to know her over many years. In his book “Madiba. Faith and Courage: Praying with Mandela” he recalls an early occasion with the Release Mandela campaign when he travelled to see her in Bradfort in Free State where she had been banished by the apartheid government. He was taking food and clothes, including track suits to be passed on to Nelson Mandela in jail.
“She was living alone in this tiny council house with no electricity. She could have been attacked at any time. She was so courageous.”
The last time they met was on the day of Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Archbishop Thabo first led a small service with relatives at the family home. Winnie Mandela was there – so too was the former president’s second wife, Graca Machal. Archbishop Thabo remembers the two women sitting peacefully beside each other.
“It was as if they were accepting that they had both played a significant part in his life and they both belonged to him.”
Abp Thabo has remained in contact while Mrs Mandela was in hospital, regularly sending her SMS messages. “She was grateful. She used to say every time she got an SMS from me, she got out of hospital.”
The Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, also paid tribute, saying that “Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was for many years a defining symbol of the struggle against apartheid. She refused to be bowed by the imprisonment of her husband, the perpetual harassment of her family by security forces, detentions, bannings and banishment. Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.”
Another former Primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane, described her as one of South Africa’s “most courageous anti-apartheid activists.”
“A mother holds a special place in one’s heart, and this is no less so for the woman who was affectionately known as ‘the mother of the nation’”, he said. “At the time of the imprisonment of much of the leadership of the anti-apartheid movements on Robben Island and in exile, she fearlessly took on the role of being the voice of the voiceless.
“Her feisty spirit was such that not even the cruelty of the apartheid government in banishing her to house arrest in Brandfort could break her resilience and opposition to the government of the day.”
He continued: “Although Mama Madikizela-Mandela made some well-documented errors of judgment during her life, she remained committed to the vulnerable and was often the first at the scene of a tragedy to provide comfort and compassion to those impacted by it.
The Bishop of Johannesburg, Dr Steve Moreo, described Winnie Mandela’s death as “a blow to South Africa as a nation”, and said that she “was an influential figure through the many years of struggle against apartheid when she showed herself time and again to be an inveterate struggler for the cause of justice. . .
“During her life, she kept close contact with all parts of the Church. A practising Methodist, she used her strong ecumenical links to reach out to other denominations, not least that of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in general, and the Diocese of Johannesburg in particular.
“There were many occasions when her insight and background information assisted the Anglican Church in the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s to be part of a Christian witness in bringing about the demise of apartheid.”