'She spoke of forgiveness, but Winnie's tears could not fall'
Personal assistant shares moving recollections at Soweto memorial of her time with the struggle icon
While her former husband, Nelson Mandela, could no longer shed tears because his tear ducts had been damaged by light and dust in the limestone quarry on Robben Island, where he spent years imprisoned, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could no longer cry because she felt she had reached the threshold of pain.
This was one of the things shared by her personal assistant, Zodwa Zwane, during Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial service at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Wednesday.
Zwane said Madikizela-Mandela, who was her boss and friend, would tear up when she spoke about forgiveness, but she would never cry.
“It was one of things when she spoke about [it] she would have tears in her eyes,” said Zwane, fighting back her own tears.
“But the tears would not roll down her face and she would say: ‘Zodwa, I don’t have tears any more because I felt the pain up to the threshold. Tears don’t come out anymore’.”Zwane expressed heartbreak that two days before her death, Madikizela-Mandela had asked her to minister to her on the last words spoken to Jesus Christ during his crucifixion, but she had told Madikizela-Mandela she would do so on Tuesday because she was rushing to the bank.
The 81-year-old, however, died the day before this was to happen.
“I didn’t know that Tuesday was not going to come,” she wept.
Recalling one of the last conversations she had with Madikizela-Mandela, Zwane said they discussed scriptures surrounding Jesus’s death, which Madikizela-Mandela had been fired up about following the church service she had attended on Good Friday.
“She said: ‘Zodwa, if a person has never felt that God is far from them, that person has not gone through pain.’
“She said: ‘I feel sorry for people who have never asked God, where are you when it hurts?’”
Zwane added that Madikizela-Mandela claimed to have asked that question many times.She related how the struggle stalwart had told her how she could relate to Jesus Christ, who had longed to give freedom to his people.
She added that she understood Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema’s analogy of Mama Winnie being sidelined and cast aside, even by those who were in the struggle.
“Julius Malema, I understood you when you said she was the stone that was rejected even by the builders,” said Zwane, adding that Ma Winnie had told her two days before her death that the same had even been done to Jesus.
Despite the EFF hosting its own memorial for Madikizela-Mandela in Brandfort in the Free State, some of the party members, including Floyd Shivambu and Fana Mokoena, were among the dignitaries at the official memorial service at Orlando Stadium.
They nodded in agreement as Zwane spoke.Zwane painted a beautiful image of the close relationship she had with Madikizela-Mandela after she was hired by her more than 10 years ago, following an interview that turned out to be a simple conversation about fashion and the dress she had worn that day.
Zwane said Madikizela-Mandela had prepared her for her death years in advance.
In their casual talks, Madikizela-Mandela had told her she would “make her famous” as thousands around the world would listen to her share stories and conversations that only the two of them knew about.
Three days before her death, Madikizela-Mandela had left her a voice message, stressing about the church service she was to attend the next day.
“On the message she is saying: ‘Zodwa, there is something I want to discuss with you. I don’t know what to do because my nails are pink and how do I wear a church uniform with pink nails?’
“I laughed about it,” Zwane said, chuckling.Two weeks earlier, the two of them had been watching TV when Madikizela-Mandela said she wanted to visit the Zion Christian Church’s headquarters in Moria.
In attendance at Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial service was Graça Machel, who had gone on to marry Nelson Mandela.
Mvezo chief and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, and his two wives were also in the audience amid the other government dignitaries.
Opposition party leaders, including IFP head Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, were among those who took to the podium to sing praises for Madikizela-Mandela.
She will be buried on Saturday.