'You fought with dignity and grace, ma' - Hlengiwe Mkhize's daughter pays tribute to her mom

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Deputy minister Hlengiwe Mkhize. (GCIS)
Deputy minister Hlengiwe Mkhize. (GCIS)
  • The late deputy minister in the Presidency, Hlengiwe Mkhize, performed her duties diligently while fighting Stage 4 lung cancer, her family say.
  • Speakers at her funeral attested to her dedication and activism to achieve social justice for the poor. 
  • Her husband Pat Mkhize said her cancer diagnosis in 2017 was never going stop her from carrying out her work and serving South Africans.

The daughter and husband of Hlengiwe Mkhize have paid tribute to her, recalling how she continued to execute her duties even while undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer.

Mkhize, who was the Deputy Minister for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities in the Presidency, died last week at the age of 69. She was laid to rest in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Mkhize's daughter Zindzi Mkhize-Vabaza told mourners that her mother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2017 and that the family was told then that she only had 19 months to live.

"I am still in disbelief that I am speaking about my mother in the past tense.

"In March 2017, our world came tumbling down. That was when my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

"We sat in the doctor's room with my dad and were told she had 19 months live and should step down from her duties. At that time, she had just been appointed Minister of Home Affairs.

"Ever the dedicated servant, mama had asked us to represent her at the doctor's office as she couldn't make it due to meetings. Ma's battle with cancer began with medical oncologists. In her four-and-a-half years of fighting this disease, she somehow managed to balance her busy schedule with chemo sessions every three weeks, sometimes flying to Cape Town on the same day of her chemo," said Mkhize-Vabaza.

READ | Deputy Minister in the Presidency Hlengiwe Mkhize has died

Numerous doctors' visits, blood tests, scans and radiation became part of Mkhize's life, but didn't stop her from continuing with her work in the Presidency, across communities, and as chairperson of the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation, her daughter said. 

In June this year, she was admitted with a collapsed lung. However, a day or two after she was discharged, she was in the streets of Soweto, cleaning up after the unrest. Mom's last call of duty was when she flew out to Cape Town four days post chemo, to cast her vote for Speaker of Parliament ...that was my mother, brave dedicated and selfless.

"Mom, I wish we caught this [cancer] earlier. We tried. We got numerous specialists, and somehow they missed it. Your two weeks in ICU before your demise was the hardest for us. You fought Ma, you fought humbly and with dignity and grace," Mkhize-Vabaza said.

Her husband Pat Mkhize shared anecdotes about his life with the late deputy minister and how they had met when they were students. He said he knew that his wife was never going to stop doing her work after she was diagnosed with cancer.

"As English philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, life is nasty, brutish and short. This is how I later reacted when the outcome of Hlengiwe's health was shared with me and my daughter in early 2017. The lung specialist said Hlengiwe had lung cancer and, as if that was not enough, the specialist said she is not going to make it beyond this period.

'South Africa is privileged to have had her leadership'

"I thought he said three years, but my daughter understood it to be 19 months. He further went on to say that, as he was one of her family members, he would ask her to step down from government.

"I explicitly told him that was not gonna happen and that we would not suggest such to her, knowing Hlengiwe's faith in God and her tenacity to serve the people," he said.

Among those who paid tribute to Mkhize were former anti-apartheid activist Reverend Frank Chikane, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi, and Malose Kekana from the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation, where Mkhize was chairperson.

READ | Mourners remember Hlengiwe Mkhize as principled and a fighter for women's rights

Chikane described her as a leader of integrity, and said she had been part of youth groups such as Youth Alive in Soweto.

"Youth Alive was part of the youth clubs and groups that mushroomed in Soweto. These clubs produced many leaders of the pre-1976 uprising and after. She presented herself at Youth Alive as a young professional who took on the spirit of service and purposeful life. This catapulted her into activism that led to political engagement."

Chikane continued:

Together with leaders of her generation, she was characterised by a high level of integrity, a leader with clear boundaries of what can and what cannot be done. It was not surprising that she ended up being part of Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Mlangeni Foundation.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi said his tribute to Mkhize emanated from her roots in Mahlabathini in KwaZulu-Natal, where the Buthelezi clan also reside.

"It is also an honour to pay tribute to her as the honourable Mkhize and I served the country together in the National Assembly. I recognised in her a fellow leader and someone who was wanted to secure social justice for the vulnerable and the voiceless. South Africa is privileged to have had her leadership."

President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver a eulogy for Mkhize.

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