New President Cyril Ramaphosa described Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as “an abiding symbol of the desire for freedom”.
In a statement following the passing of the struggle stalwart, Ramaphosa said Madikizela-Mandela was a champion of justice and equality.
Madikizela-Mandela passed away at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg at the age of 81 after a long illness for which she had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year, according to a statement released by her family.
Of former president Nelson Mandela’s x-wife the president said: “It is with a profound sense of loss and deep sadness that we have learnt of the passing away of Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Even at the darkest moments of our struggle for liberation, Mam’ Winnie was an abiding symbol of the desire of our people to be free. In the midst of repression, she was a voice of defiance and resistance. In the face of exploitation, she was a champion of justice and equality…
“Throughout her life, she made an everlasting contribution to the struggle through sacrifice and her unyielding determination. Her dedication to the plight of her people gained her the love and the respect of the nation.
“For many years, she bore the brunt of the senseless brutality of the apartheid state with stoicism and fortitude. Despite the hardships she faced, she never doubted that the struggle for freedom and democracy would succeed.
“She remained throughout her life a tireless advocate for the dispossessed and the marginalised. She was a voice for the voiceless.”
The President’s office appealed for collective reflection on Madikizela-Mandela’s “rich, remarkable and meaningful life” as the nation mourns.
“Let us draw inspiration from the struggles that she fought and the dream of a better society to which she dedicated her life. Today we have lost a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a comrade, a leader and an icon.
“As South Africans, we collectively pass our condolences to the Madikizela and Mandela families. Your loss is our loss as well,” the Presidency said.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has joined the outpour of tributes.
“Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s passing away is a hard blow for the foundation. She travelled a very long road together with our founder, Nelson Mandela. She was a member of a generation of leaders which survived the most brutal period of state terror in apartheid South Africa. And she was a friend of the foundation.
“All South Africans are indebted to Mama Winnie… From the witness of her life, we knew we could stand tall; we knew also we could falter and stumble. Either condition was an affirmation of life. Her cry was our cry, and in 2018 we can say we did triumph.
“We will miss her, and our country will miss her. Hamba kahle (farewell) Mama,” said foundation chairperson Professor Njabulo Ndebele.