Brilliant wisdom, fierce beauty: Graça pays tribute to her ‘big sister’ Winnie

Graça Machel, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela at the his 90th birthday celebration at Loftus stadium in Pretoria in 2008. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press
Graça Machel, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela at the his 90th birthday celebration at Loftus stadium in Pretoria in 2008. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Graça Machel has penned an emotional tribute to her “big sister”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, saying that she is struggling to accept her death.

Machel lauded Madikizela’s “resilient fortitude and inextinguishable passion” and said she hoped that South Africans would be as uncompromising as she was in the defence and protection of our rights.

“As I struggle to accept your transition, I take solace in the fact that you have risen to become one of the brightest stars in the sky where you will remain ever present and radiantly shining,” said Machel, describing Madikizela-Mandela as having “brilliant wisdom”, “fierce defiance” and “stylish beauty”.

“The extraordinary life you led is an example of resilient fortitude and inextinguishable passion that is a source of inspiration to us all of how to courageously confront challenges with unwavering strength and determination,” she said.

Madikizela-Mandela and Machel have always maintained that they have a strong bond, despite a much-publicised dispute over the ownership of Madiba’s Qunu home following his death, and his will, which favoured Machel over his former wife.

In an interview with British journalist Mark Austin in July 2013, Madikizela-Mandela said she and Machel were “like sisters ... with very strong bonds, like an extended family.”

She told Austin of how they spent time together at the hospital bedside. “We call him our husband.”

Nevertheless, Mandela left Machel, all their cars, the jewellery in her possession and the works of art she would like to take from the Houghton home she had shared with him.

He not only provided for Graça’s own children, but also left money to six of Samora Machel’s children from her previous marriage.

Madikizela-Mandela, was only mentioned in the parts of the will made public in relation to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In his will, Madiba stated that the Qunu home should be administered by the NRM Family Trust for the benefit of the Mandela family and be used by Machel and her two children, Malengane and Josina Machel.

Madikizela-Mandela was quoted as saying that Machel should not inherit Mandela’s property in Qunu because she owns “a whole world in Mozambique”, and she went to court to fight for the home in Qunu.

As legal disputes were waged over his wealth and burial site, Machel and Madikizela-Mandela put up a united front, embracing each other and walking hand in hand at his funeral.

Machel said she hoped that, as the world paid tribute to Madikizela-Mandela, “all of us will internalise the values [Madikizela-Mandela] helped to mould and birth into existence.

“As a nation, I hope we will stand tall and proud, and as uncompromising as you were in the defence and protection of our rights.”

Machel said Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy would be an “uplifting beacon from which we can continue to draw guidance and strength during difficult times”.

She said her “big sister” loved the South African people unconditionally and sacrificed so much for their freedom.

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