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The late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has truly given every dime and gold of her heart and soul to this country’s liberation struggle. She has left everything on the field and departed with nothing but her inner self. Even that which was left of her ailing health was consumed until her last days by her resolve for the full emancipation of the previously disadvantaged South Africans. She left us with these precious gifts to ensure that our freedom is worth its salt. And she, indeed, was worth her salt.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was many things to many people. In a live interview on SABC’s Morning Live, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise, shared some fond memories of her and she remarked that she regarded her as her mother. For she took her under her wings as her understudy while she was the leader of the ANC Women’s League – and what she (Ms Modise) learnt has influenced the manner in which she has embraced some of the leaderships roles invested in her by the ANC over time.

Most of all, she hailed her fervent revolutionary thought and discipline that she was married to until her dying days. For her, that is what stands out about Winnie’s political calling.

Ms Modise said although Winnie was known to be this fearless political creature, she also had a soft spot and would cry when deeply affected by the plight of those who are still living in squalor, who are yet to enjoy the gains of our democracy.

Winnie led a remarkable life of self-determination against the ever-mounting odds that many of us are only beginning to understand now that the chapters of her political memoir, characterised by sadness and sorrow, bravery and fearlessness, have been recast by her death, back to our collective consciousness and to the centre stage of our political imaginations.

As we are beginning to attest the elasticity of her political reputation, we have come to realise that there are few South Africans who never enjoyed their privacy, motherhood, who were on the coal face of persecution and repression and who endured that in every moment of their daily existence than her. Unlike others, she had no choice of running away from this fight, but to stare it in the face and live to fight another day. That was her quotidian existence. Her life exemplifies the fact that our democracy was not a gift, it was earned through blood, sweat and tears.  

Winnie often remarked that her revolutionary fervour was the product of apartheid. But beneath its veil lay her eternal love for humanity. If apartheid ignited the flames of her wrath, it is democracy that unearthed the loving and caring memories of her soul that date back to her career as the first black social worker at the now Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.  

Caring for others was not an occupation she was elected to do, it came naturally and effortlessly. Her resolve to alleviate the plight of the poor and destitute is a testimony to that. And she remained rooted in their midst in Soweto – when she could have easily secured a lavish home and live large in the leafy suburbs. This was her way of signalling to us the challenges that our democracy is confronted with.

We are worst off without her, for there is no stately figure to remind our collective conscience, the way and manner that are uniquely hers, of the unfinished work that lies ahead. The best we can do is to shine her beacon of hope, courage and sacrifice to the best of our ability.

Parliament pays homage to the passing of a martyr that fought tireless for a free and democracy South Africa. 

By Abel Mputing

5 April 2018