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.
On 2 April 2018 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.
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.
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.
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.