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Rest In Power, Mother

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It was the day after Easter.

In the afternoon on what was a public holiday in South Africa, news started trickling in of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela’s death, of illness at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. She was 81.

South Africa would mourn her passing for the next couple of weeks. As would the world.

Mama Winnie was gone, marking the end of an era, yet in death, rekindling memories of a painful apartheid past, against which she fought valiantly, controversially; the fearless, feisty fighter who famously clenched her fist to rallying cries of ‘amandla’ (Zulu word for ‘power’), had clenched her fists forever.

A hero had departed.

Anti-apartheid activist, politician, struggle stalwart and ex-wife of South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, Madikizela-Mandela was known as the Mother of the Nation.

Minutes after the announcement of her demise, grieving mobs poured into her red-brick home in Orlando West, Soweto, thumping chests and crying loudly.

The national mourning had begun, and on the cards for the next 10 days, a slew of memorials celebrating the life and legacy of Winnie Mandela.

READ MORE: Struggle Hero Winnie Mandela Dead At 81

The Friday that week, in Bassline, a concert venue in the cultural precinct of Newtown in downtown Johannesburg, the house was filled to capacity for “an all black night” – women in black donning colorful doeks (headwraps), singing, chanting and raising their fists in her memory.

“The revolutionary, sacrificial soul of our time. Blessed are we to have walked the earth in her time as our mother. So when I say ‘I am beautiful’, I know mama was beautiful and still is. When I say ‘I am fearless, I am courageous, I am wise, I am smart, I am powerful’, I am Winnie Mandela,” said Unathi Nkayi, the emcee of what was a memorable Mandela night.

The events unfurled in quick succession.

April 7 saw the launch of Madikizela-Mandela murals as walls of remembrance in various parts of Soweto for which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) used local artists, who started as early as 7AM, spending the day deploying their talent in Mama Winnie’s memory.

“It’s like the highest honor to be able to do something like this,” said Mpho Madi, a graffiti artist from Meadowlands. “Usually, I’m doing things for white people in the suburbs. This one can go in the history books. I feel great.”

Day six after Madikizela-Mandela’s death, hundreds gathered for a tribute ceremony to honor her at Constitutional Hill, where she was prisoner number 1323/69 when jailed by the apartheid government in the last century.

“It’s really hard to stand here, we are sore. ‘Big Mama’ as we called her, took us by surprise,” said Ndileka Mandela, Madikizela-Mandela’s eldest granddaughter before breaking down on stage, and was thereafter warmly comforted by Graça Machel, former first lady and wife of the late South African president Mandela.

“Winnie was my big sister, I take long to process pain, I prefer to be quiet to feel and understand it. It is too early to process the pain we are going through,” said Machel.

After her emotional speech, she walked offstage and kissed a teary-eyed George Bizos in the front row, the human rights lawyer who campaigned against apartheid, most notably during the Rivonia Trial.

The April 11 memorial service in Orlando Stadium, just a few kilometers from Mama Winnie’s home, saw a stadium half-full, but the cheering was as loud as soccer fans watching a Soweto match. It was exhilarating despite security denying photojournalists access to the field.

Mourners sobbed inconsolably after Mama Winnie’s great grandchildren paid their tributes.

“Today I’ll be speaking about my great grand granny. She was the best, she tried and she was a great fighter, we all loved her and thank you for being the greatest gogo,” said Zazi Mandela.

And lastly, the funeral on April 14; a Saturday morning that brought together tens of thousands of mourners at Orlando Stadium, for the day their Mother would be laid to rest.

Mama Winnie’s family bid farewell to her for the last time at her home in Orlando West, before heading to the stadium to pay their last respects with the nation. In attendance were ANC leaders, party members and leaders from across political parties. American civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson and supermodel Naomi Campbell had also flown in.

It was around 9AM when Madikizela-Mandela’s coffin arrived, draped in the national flag, and carried by the South African National Defence Force.

The mourners cheered, cried, and stood up raising their fists, chanting and shouting Mama Winnie’s name. At that very moment, blood rushed through our veins.

It felt like the whole stadium was shaking but in reality, photographers were pushing and shoving to get the perfect picture, that historic picture; and it was something we most definitely captured too.

Doing our rounds around the stadium, we bumped into a 19-year-old artist, Bongani Kwabe, whose desire was to have his drawing delivered to the Madikizela-Mandela family as a gift.

“My mom met with Zindzi [Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter] and they took me to art school, they paid for my studies so this is my gift to them but I can’t give my gift to Winnie because they say it needs to be processed or something. This is just a piece of paper, my offering to her. My family now is better off because of me,” said Kwabe in gratitude.

We had never met Mama Winnie but as part of the ‘bornfree’ generation, we had read a lot about her, and now tasked to cover her funeral, it was a privilege recording history.

At 10AM, more than four speakers had taken their turn to express their thoughts and gratitude for Madikizela-Mandela’s impact on their lives.

Through the many testimonies, the whole stadium felt the late struggle veteran’s presence.

Rossi Turner, a mourner who had flown all the way from Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States, wandered the hallways of Orlando Stadium.

In 1978, he was part of the Knoxville Four, a group of students from the University of Tennessee jailed for protesting apartheid. He too came here to honor Mama Winnie.

“Well, if I’m blessed to have another child, I would name her after Winnie, she will be compelled to read all that there is about Winnie and understand that she is the Harriet Tubman of South Africa,” he said. (Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds to freedom during slavery in America.)

Soon after, we spoke to a woman dressed in the South African flag, and adorned with African ornaments and beaded bracelets. She had traveled from Pretoria, the South African capital.

“Mama fought for us. She fought for us to be free in this country and now she is gone and I don’t know what to do. She was our last hope,” said Nelly Kubayi. “I am not crying, I am celebrating her life. I will miss her.”

Kubayi was one of the few who chose to dance and sing in the hallways of the stadium instead of watching the funeral procession.

Outside the stadium, there were echoes of the celebrations, amongst supporters, mourners and vendors. Some Sowetan residents set up stores selling food, clothes and merchandise. Amongst the pop-up stores, the item that sold the most was the doek, which has come to be a symbol for Mama Winnie.

At about 2PM, just as the event was coming to a close, dark clouds gathered in the sky.

Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, began delivering the final sermon. Birds started flying low in the middle of the stadium in circular motions, almost as if they could tell the rains were coming.

The Bishop’s voice got louder as the crowds started chanting. But thunder drowned them all out. The heavens were opening up; Mother Nature wanted to be a part of it too.

“May her soul rest in peace and rise in glory,” ended the Bishop with a Christian eulogy as the crowd chorused ‘Winnie Winnie’ in unison. “Rest in power,” some of them tweeted.

At exactly 2.30PM, the military readied to carry her casket out of the stadium. The heavens poured.

A man in a red beret standing in the rain raised his hands to the sky in worship. He wiped his face; it wasn’t the rain he was wiping off, but tears.

On the last leg of her mortal journey, a convoy of black cars carried Mama Winnie down the Klipspruit Valley Road of Soweto, to bury her at the Fourways Park Cemetery north of Johannesburg.

A short drive for an icon who will live long in history books around the world.

‘Her Beauty Was The Most Striking Thing About Her’

A feisty revolutionary she may have been, but Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was always praised for her grace, beauty and sartorial style, characterized by the doek.

She had many admirers, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa one of them.

“Each time I met her, I would say ‘Mama, you are so beautiful’; and I even said what’s unfortunate is that I was too young at the time,” Ramaphosa said during his speech at Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral. He continued to say how he would have even competed with Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Itumeleng Faith Seuoe, Madikizela-Mandela’s make-up artist speaks about the late icon’s style.

Itumeleng Faith Seuoe. Photo supplied.

“Her beauty was the most striking thing about her,” she says.

According to Seuoe, Mama Winnie would moisturize her skin with rose water before applying any make-up.

Her look was characterized by light, natural make-up.

“She always loved a little bit of red on her lips and had perfects lips,” she says.

Seuoe, who has been a make-up artist for 28 years, says Madikizela-Mandela was the most beautiful woman she ever met.

– By Motlabana Monnakgotla and Karen Mwendera

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A Country On A Roll

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The tiny country of Rwanda is now producing factory-fresh Volkswagen cars from its rolling hills. Next up are ride-hailing and public car-sharing services by the German carmaker.

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The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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The Power, Humour And Anger Of Mandela

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It is a century since Nelson Mandela came kicking and screaming into a world that he would change.

In one hundred years, his name has been spoken with pride from the paddy fields of Vietnam, through the savannahs of Africa to the smoky steak houses of New York. His legacy appears more contested with every passing year.

I was fortunate to have a front row seat in the Mandela years and saw the power, humour and anger of the man. I used to feel 10 feet tall at press conferences when he used to greet my questions with: “Mr Bishop, how are you?” Once I was walking to a TV interview with him, at an African Union summit in Harare, the day after I had ruptured my knee playing football, he noticed I was hobbling far behind – something he was not used to. He turned and inquired of the cause of my pain.

“May I suggest you take up boxing, it’s safer!” says the old man with that million dollar smile. I shall take the warmth of that smile to my grave.

Make it clear, I am no Mandela worshipper. He was no saint and certainly didn’t want to be one: he could be angry and petulant with the best of them; his past was chequered by domestic troubles; a man of the people, yet distant from his own family, according to many close to him. A man who promoted press freedom, yet like many of the lesser politicians who followed him, wanted his picture on every page of the morning newspaper. Mandela drew the line at the sports page – he joked that he didn’t want to risk being associated with losers.

The greatest fear Mandela had was that his ideals – not his name – would be forgotten after his death. Not for Mandela the greed of rule, nor the trappings of power.

Yet it is very fashionable these days to run Mandela down as something akin to a sell-out. Those who claim, erroneously, that Mandela sold out his people. They say he didn’t stop poverty overnight nor right the wrongs of the past with the wave of his wand. They need to talk to those who were there in the negotiations for a new free South Africa.

“People say we gave up too much in negotiations yet we had nothing to start with,” Denis Goldberg, a man who faced death with Mandela at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, once told me.

READ MORE: Mandela Through Their Eyes

The negotiations with an entrenched elite – that held most of the cards and only grudgingly acknowledged Mandela and his comrades – were difficult to say the least. Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) could not even threaten to go back to war because the depleting arms of its military wing posed little or no threat to the state.

Even so, a deal was hammered together somehow. In the next two years, in the run-up to the 1994 elections, Mandela won his leadership spurs as he steered South Africa away from the civil war that many feared was inevitable. He flew to Durban and told bloody-thirsty faction fighters to throw their weapons into the sea and they listened. When revered freedom fighter Chris Hani was gunned down on his front drive, in 1993, many were ready to take the law into their own hands.

Mandela barged into the SABC studios in Johannesburg that night and made a broadcast to the nation to calm down and put its weapons away. He wasn’t even in Parliament then and I wonder to this day how many lives that broadcast saved with this canny display of leadership.

Then, when into power with a virtually bankrupt Treasury, Mandela steered the National Development Programme that built millions of homes and schools; electrified the homes of legions of poor people and rolled out roads to connect the nation. Yet, the money was never going to stretch far enough and millions still have no roof over their heads and too many schoolchildren attend classes under trees.

It is fashionable these days to say the majority of South Africa must rise in a civil war in which the nation will be cleansed of its past, restored of its land on the path to righteousness. It probably sounds even better after a few drinks.

READ MORE: Celebrating Mandela From Where It All Began; Soweto

I say this is bunkum and anyone who has ever seen or smelt a civil war will agree with me. How a vile, stinking trail of dead fathers, raped women and children, destruction and disorder, can lead a country to the light beats me. Those who scream for war have clearly never seen it.

The first time I clapped eyes on the great man, at the Harare Agricultural Show, on his first foreign visit to Zimbabwe in August 1994, he walked alone, without a security man in sight. I didn’t ask for a selfie – they didn’t exist then, anyway – I was tongue-tied. We merely smiled at each other in passing.

So when people in political circles told me that South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t care for wealth and power – he merely wanted to put his name up there with Mandela – I smiled like I did on that August day in Harare.

This does seem feasible as President Ramaphosa – a millionaire in his own right – was the man who stood next to Mandela, holding the microphone, on the town hall steps in Cape Town, on February 11 1990, during his famous address on release from 27 years in prison.

“I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people,” said Mandela to deafening cheers on that bright summer’s day.

Clearly this humility and willingness to serve rubbed off on President Ramaphosa on that fateful day in 1990. In his first 100 days, he has made manful attempts to stop the rot in South Africa by merely enforcing the rule of law. A course of action he made no secret of even before he took power on February 15.

“There are no holy cows. Anyone who is caught doing wrong things will end up behind the bars of a jail,” says Ramaphosa, with microphone in hand and humble service in mind at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

True to his word, Ramaphosa cut swathes through the corruption of the past. Former president Jacob Zuma ended up in the dock on corruption charges something that many – including me – thought they would never see in their lifetime. He removed the rookie finance minister Malusi Gigaba and replaced him with the people’s choice Nhanlha Nene who has staved off more downgrades of the economy. A clean-up of the state-owned enterprises and the institutions is underway and many who thought they were invincible six months ago have been cut down to size.

I am sure the old man, who must have been spinning in his grave over the last few years, would approve.

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” says Mandela at his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

As we mark 100 years since his birth, it is time for cool heads and clear thinking to make sure this utopian ideal of liberty and tolerance lives on after his death. Our grandchildren will judge us harshly if we don’t.

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