When we were heroes: Funeral was one last shake of Winnie's spear
Her send-off was a hark back in time to the ANC of old, infused with her own rebellious spirit
There was a murmur around Orlando Stadium as thunder clapped overhead and a few drops of rain sploshed down. Within minutes, sheets of rain drenched the stadium and people ran for cover.
The prayer service and military ceremony were quickly wrapped up and the cortège made its way down the red carpet towards the tunnel.
Members of the family and VIPs who had been sitting on stage were drenched by the time they got across the field.
President Cyril Ramaphosa walked behind the coffin wearing that look he has when he tries to pretend everything is normal and it really isn’t.Winnie Madikizela-Mandela usually liked making a grand entrance, something those who felt upstaged resented her for.
The heavens colluded to make her exit utterly glorious and unforgettable, replete with a rainbow over Fourways after her burial.
When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, the state machinery took him away from his people. The bureaucracy, dynamics in the Mandela family, combined with protocol and security arrangements, as well as the location of the funeral in Qunu, meant that ordinary people could not be involved in his final send-off.
Mam’ Winnie’s farewell was different. She journeyed back to her home in Orlando West, rode through the streets of Soweto, lay in state among her people at Orlando Stadium and then rode past the City of Gold to her final resting place.Even though it was an official funeral, her send-off was a hark back in time to the ANC of old, infused with her own rebellious spirit.
There was a distinct pulse in the crowd, a passion in the singing, an energy that recalled a time when politics was real and leaders were heroic.Winnie the courageous warrior was evident in the voice of her daughter, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, who, through her grief, spoke in defence of her mother’s memory and tore into her detractors.
“The pain you inflicted on her lives on in us. Praising her now that she’s gone shows what hypocrites you are. Why didn’t you do the same to any of her male counterparts and remind the world of the many crimes they committed before they were called saints?” she asked.
Her mother would have applauded.
But Mandela-Dlamini also used the platform to caution against those trying to compare and drive a wedge between her parents.“Unlike many of those who imagine a contested legacy between my father and my mother, we do not have the luxury of such a choice. The two of them were our parents. And all we ask is: no matter how tempting it may be to compare and contrast them, just know that sometimes it is enough to contemplate two historical figures and accept that they complemented each other, far more than any popular narrative might suggest.”
'I am here to pick up her spear'
EFF leader Julius Malema has also been in immense pain since Mam’ Winnie’s passing. But if there is anyone who can reflect her fighting spirit, it is him, and that is what he was obliged to do in his tribute.
He too lashed out and shamed her detractors. He addressed her directly, asking for guidance on how to deal with those who persecuted and alienated her.Madikizela-Mandela encouraged the formation of the EFF and supported its agenda, which is more aligned to her own politics than that of the ANC.
It was with that knowledge that Malema said: “I am here to pick up her spear‚ and make my vow that I will continue to fight for a mission of restoring the dignity of black people through attainment of economic freedom in our lifetime.”
With all that had been said over the two highly emotive weeks since Madikizela-Mandela’s passing, it was a tough ask for Ramaphosa to capture the nation’s pain and adequately reflect her life in the eulogy.He did what he does best: played the role of healer and reconciler.
Ramaphosa resisted the temptation to elevate the ANC’s formidable history as he rightly read the mood that the send-off had to be about Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy, some of which was in conflict with her organisation.
He confronted the controversies, admitted the ANC and society’s faults in their treatment of Mam’ Winnie and acknowledged her pain.The symbolism of “touching her wounds” was therapeutic for those hurting at her torment and in their grief. Ramaphosa’s recognition of the wounds of the nation was presidential, as were his efforts to ensure a cessation of hostilities with the EFF, in line with Madikizela-Mandela’s last wish.
When the rain came it brought to a close a magnificent, unscripted, animated, unforgettable farewell for the Mother of the Nation.
There was no easy way to say goodbye to our mother, but when all was said and done, her final send-off was inimitably Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.