MaMbeki: ‘A flower that will forever blossom’

2014-06-15 15:00

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Epainette Mbeki lived a life filled with grace, peace and humility – and, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa told mourners at her funeral, he hopes that he “can be like her”.

Fierce winds drove mourners from the marquee in which the service was held after Ramaphosa had finished speaking and before MaMbeki’s son Moeletsi could deliver a vote of thanks on behalf of the family.

Thousands gathered in Ngcingwana, Dutywa, yesterday to honour the 98-year-old, who died last Saturday in an East London hospital.

Among them were struggle stalwart Andrew Mlangeni, who was imprisoned on Robben Island with MaMbeki’s late husband, Govan.

Other guests included AmaXhosa king Mpendulo Sigcawu and his AbaThembu counterpart Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo; Cabinet ministers Lindiwe Sisulu, Thulas Nxesi and Naledi Pandor; former ministers Ronnie Kasrils, Sbu Ndebele and Lulu Xingwana; Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi; ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe; and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.

President Jacob Zuma did not attend because of poor health, and Ramaphosa spoke in his place.

The weather nearly ruined the latter part of the service, which was held in a large marquee on an open field in Ngcingwana’s Khanyisa Project Centre.

Guests were ordered to evacuate because of gale-force winds, though officials told City Press this was just a security measure to “avoid any possible disaster” and the marquee stayed standing hours after the evacuation and burial.

MaMbeki’s body arrived at her home just before 7am yesterday and a prayer ritual was performed to welcome the body as a family elder spoke to Mbeki’s spirit and explained its final journey.

Then, MaMbeki’s brown casket was carried from the home – Moeletsi was one of the pallbearers.

Police formed a guard of honour as the casket was carried into the marquee, with other officers leading the procession in.

MaMbeki’s surviving children, Moeletsi and former president Thabo Mbeki, stood side by side as the procession entered.

“We are here to celebrate and honour the life of our mother, aunt and community builder. And in my view, a truly fine lady?…?I wish that I too can be like her,” Ramaphosa said during his speech.

“She lived a life full of grace, peace and humility. Her rich legacy lives on and I commit government to carry on her passion and legacy to uplift and develop the lives of rural people.”

Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle told mourners that “when South African history is properly told and captured, her name will occupy a special place”.

He added: “She held the fort and kept the home fires burning while [Govan] was in prison.”

Speaking on behalf of the Mbeki family, an emotional Fezeka Mabona said they were “releasing Mama” after a painful week of mourning.

Mabona was raised by MaMbeki and spoke fondly of the woman she regarded as her mother.

“She changed the lives of many poor people. She was an educationist and very respectful. She taught us to be independent and to share with those who were less fortunate,” she said.

Mabona spoke of visiting MaMbeki at the hospital last weekend, where she was taken after complaining of shortness of breath.

“When I visited her, she was not eating in hospital. I told [Thabo] about it, he confronted her about this. Mama told buti Thabo not to listen to me because I was just gossiping.

“She did not like gossipers,” said Mabona, fighting to hold back her tears.

In a special tribute by author Mark Gevisser, read out by MaMbeki’s grandson Karl Mbeki, Gevisser described visiting the elderly woman while working on his biography of Thabo Mbeki.

“For hours on end, the 83-year-old Mrs Mbeki educated me with her trenchant analysis of rural society and its problems, entertained me with her wit and easy laughter, and asked acute questions about my own work and ideas.

“I was being led by an embodiment of history, and humanity, that has sustained and challenged me ever since?…?she would die – as she lived – among the poor rural people with whom she identified,” Gevisser wrote in his tribute.

“We are proud to claim you as our grandmother, mother and our very own. You are a flower that will forever blossom,” Ramaphosa said.

MaMbeki was buried in the Dutywa cemetery.

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