Ruth Mompati and the guest for the New Humanity

2015-05-23 05:34

“”My grandmother's family was part of a well-established African community whose cultural and political infrastructure was still largely intact (when I grew up)”.

“”I grew up with a tradition that stressed the importance of being a warm being, hospitable, generous, concerned with the welfare of others, and dedicated to the caring for the outcasts, the weak and the desolate””.

That is the psychological and philosophical genesis of Ruth Mompati that took her from the small village of Tlapeng to Orlando West, Soweto where she ultimately formed part of the inner circle of the young Nelson Mandela – a man who was to become the grand-daddy of the 21st century leadership.  This is the Mandela inner circle out of which the seeds of the democratic South Africa were sown.

“’I moved to Johannesburg in 1952. I lived in Orlando West in the same area Nelson Mandela lived. I did a course in shorthand and typing, and at the end of 1953 there was a job offering at Mandela and Tambo Law Firm”’.

This is the woman who wrapped up the Mandela and Tambo Law Firm after the arrest of Nelson Mandela.

After Mandela's arrest Winnie Mandela took Ruth Mompati into her own home, even though it was under surveillance. When Winnie left for work every morning, she would lock the door behind her as though no one was home. Behind the door Ruth Mompati was finalizing what she could and referring pending court cases to other lawyers.

It is most fitting that the nation this Saturday is giving Mama Ruth (as she is affectionately known) the official state funeral she deserves.

Before traveling to Soweto where she met Nelson Mandela Ruth Mompati was a school teacher at the small village of Dithakwaneng beginning when she was 19 years of age. That was 1944. She was born in 1925.

Dithakwaneng was some sought of a fertile crescent. The village was on a fertile plain flowing with fruits and vegetables. As Mama Ruth describes the village; “’I remember the spring at the top of the village which flowed into a stream that divided the village into two. There were vegetables and fruits of every kind. The season started with apricots and ended with quinces”’.

In the process of time the village was destroyed giving way to white farmers. The people were forcibly removed and dumped at Huhudi township and surrounding vicinity.

From Soweto beginning in 1962 Ruth Mompati was to spend three decades in exile only returning to South Africa in 1990s.

It is very teachable and worth noting that from her upbringing and to her old age – Ruth Mompati never changed. In fact her rich and turbulent life only amplified the virtues she was born into. Hear her in her old age:

"'I learned that each of us is endowed with inner energy. In Setswana we call it seriti. This force or presence is within us and has its origin in Modimo (God). Driven by this divine force, human beings who are awakened to this presence within them, cannot rest until the divine dignity of humankind is manifest in the entire community and society around them”.

Are we willing to sit down and deeply meditate about her life, what she lived for and what she meant all her life? Or the leaders have now succumbed to corruption - where the eyes are fixed on pursuing individualistic projects  and selfish indulgence of my Mercedes is better than yours?

The guest for new humanity

In true leadership a person rises above his or her self-interests and fights for public good. One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. And that is the life of Mama Ruth. A worthy life dedicated to the promotion of humanity at great personal sacrifices.

From the beginning this inner circle or rather this Class of Mandela put a premium on serving the community, lifting others, and finding joy in empowering others.

Another virtue this Class of Nelson Mandela embraced and dreamed for from the beginning was unity in purpose. They have long wished for and cherished an ideal. They wanted to be the grand architect of peace, the conciliator of Black and White people of South Africa. they wanted to be the voice of reason and moderation between these two races comprising South Africa.

While we look back at the life of Mama Ruth let us not be stuck in the past. Let us use the celebration of this worthy golden past as a source of rich inspiration moving forward.  The past should be our source of inspiration and a psychological therapy giving us a sense of well being and inner strength. But definitely let us not make our past a prison cell. In the words of one of the great African poets Ben Okri : ”Our Future is Greater than Our Past””.

Put yesterday, which adds little of tomorrow, behind, and live in a robust today with a generous human spirit and face the future with positivity and cheerfulness.

From the perspective of Franz Fanon and the burden of each generation to discover its mission and fulfill or betray it, Mama Ruth did not disappoint, in fact she excelled. Not only did she discover her mission but having discovered it she gave herself to it – embraced it and lived for it.

The destiny of the country now lay in the hands of the emerging young leaders. Let the emerging crop of young black leaders across the South Africa stratosphere take the mettle – take the cures. Take the old bottle and fill it with new wine.


Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years, by David James Smith

The Spirit of Freedom: South African Leaders on Religion and Politics, by Charles Villa-Vicencio

Winnie Mandela: A Life, by Anné Mariè du Preez Bezdrob


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