Sisi Ntombela: Let Winnie Madikizela-Mandela not die, but multiply

Free State premier Sisi Ntombela outside the home of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
Free State premier Sisi Ntombela outside the home of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

My late mother, Mankgapa Rebecca Mokoena, taught me one of the valuable lessons in my life – to always take care of the poor and destitute.

My late mother always taught me that by taking care of the poor, one was increasing her fortunes in life.

It is this valuable teaching that has inspired my interactions with the people until today.

This lesson was further brought to life by one of our esteemed freedom fighters, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who, throughout her life, dedicated everything she had for the poor.

Mama Winnie chose a career in social work primarily because she was not inspired by wealth and riches, but because she wanted to help the poor, the desperate and the destitute.

Through her determination to help the people, she became the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital, which is the third largest hospital in the world, situated in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Whilst working at the hospital during the 1950s, Mama Winnie helped patients and families in need of psychosocial help.

The majority of these patients and families were victims of the brutal system of apartheid, which affected the financial, social, medical and psychological conditions of the people.

Her work in the hospital increased her interest in national politics.

Mama Winnie learnt that the poor and destitute, who she saw as part of her work, were victims of a system of institutionalised oppression of the majority by the minority.

Of interest to Mama Winnie was the research she conducted about child mortality in Alexandra township.

At the time, the child mortality in the township stood at 10 deaths for every 1 000 live births.

These matters inspired Mama Winnie to work even harder to fight against the system of apartheid.

Her love and passion for the poor and the destitute was displayed even more in later years when her involvement in the struggle for freedom was heightened.

When Mama Winnie was banished in the Free State township of Majwemasweu, Brandfort, she threw herself into a lot of community work.

Together with women in the community of Brandfort, Mama Winnie spent a lot of time setting up, amongst others, a nursery school, a soup kitchen for schoolchildren, a mobile clinic, and several self-help projects that ranged from growing vegetables to sewing school uniforms.

The lessons I drew from Mama Winnie really deepened the teachings I received from my late mother.

As I pay tribute to these wonderful women, who have both played a profound role in my life, I want to further commit myself to serving our people, the majority of who are African, female and poor.

As we bid a revolutionary farewell to Mama Winnie, we continue to be inspired by her incredible appetite to serve the nation.

As we say goodbye to the ‘mother of the nation’, we have a duty not to rest until we change the conditions of our people for the better.

The need for radical socio-economic transformation becomes even more urgent, as we play our role to honour Mama Winnie.

Working together with the national Department of Arts and Culture, the Free State provincial government will ensure that the establishment of a Winnie Mandela Musuem is accelerated in Brandfort.

We will also erect a statue of Mama Winnie as part of our tasks to honour the rare legacy that this icon has left for us.

As we lower the flag to half mast, we say, collectively, that Mama Winnie shall not die, but will multiply.

• Ntombela is the premier of the Free State and deputy president of the ANC Women’s League

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