A towering figure in the struggle for Apartheid is how United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres described Ma Winnie Madikizela Mandela.
Guterres says, “As a strong and fearless woman, she had to fight patriarchy’s definitions of womanhood. In apartheid South Africa, the combination of patriarchy and racism together meant that black women confronted enormous obstacles from the cradle to the grave – making her own achievements all the more exceptional.
The UN Chief led tributes at a memorial in New York that included the President of the General Assembly and Ambassadors representing each and every region of the world, describing her as a symbol of resistance who left an indelible mark on the history of the 20th Century.
The head of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also lauded her role in the fight for women’s equality and empowerment.
In a video message Mlambo Ngcuka said, “Her courage sometimes looked even as if it intimidated the Apartheid system and that is what made her such an iconic leader because the system that people were afraid of, she was not afraid of. instead she made the system to be afraid of her…
“She was not just a wife of an iconic leader, she was an iconic leader in her own right, on who’s shoulders many other leaders, men, women, children, young people were able to stand and find their place in society. This is the memory we want to try and keep,” added Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Her advocacy for women’s rights, including in her role as president of the ANC Women’s League, reflected her dedication to justice.
Her sacrifices were acknowledged as having changed the course of history – her resilience described as inspiring by General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak.
Lajcak said, “In every period of history, there are some people, who are different to others. And that is because they are willing to sacrifice everything, to change the world around them. And, we owe a great debt, to people like this. Their sacrifices benefit all of those who come after them. And, their sacrifices – in a small or a serious way – change the course of history. I do not think any of us could deny that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one of these people. And that is why we are all gathered here, today, to pay tribute to her.”
Ambassadors from each regional grouping paid tribute, the United States as host country, additionally India, Cuba and Namibia’s Ambassador Neville Melvin Gertze on behalf of SADC.
Gertze says, “Mama Winnie, mother of the nation, spear of the nation, you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race but your legacy will live on to inspire generations to come, to never surrender to injustice but to stand up for justice. Let us honour her memory by rededicating ourselves to the next phase of the struggle, the economic emancipation of the suffering masses. The struggle now is to lift the poor out of a life of hunger and despair. To bring universal health to people everywhere, to improve the quality of life for all but most especially for the most vulnerable in the world. Let us ensure that no-one is left behind.”
Human rights lawyer Gay McDougall who stood alongside Madiba when he voted in the first democratic election in 1994 – described Mam Winnie as having rallied a nation when the leadership of the ANC was sent to prison or exiled.
McDougall says,”By taking a leadership role in uMkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC she shattered notions of a woman’s place in liberation movements and perhaps she insisted on staying close and living with people in the townships and because so many of her sister warriors came out of the trade union movement, she and they had a clear vision of a future SA in which black babies no longer die of hunger and all children would have equal access to quality education; a South Africa in which poverty was a distant memory.”
A life of great accomplishment in a nation and world now challenged to complete the task.
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