“When you strike a woman, you strike a rock” is a popular slogan from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and a call to action on women’s rights in the country. On April 2 one of the rocks of that struggle fell when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela died aged 81.
Jailed, arrested, detained, and persecuted under the notorious apartheid regime’s repression and intimidation, she was amongst the most courageous faces of the bitter struggle for democracy in South Africa. When her former husband Nelson Mandela and other senior African National Congress and resistance leaders were in prison at Robben Island, she led from the trenches as one of the faces of the struggle. She held senior positions in the ANC as president of the Women’s League and as executive member of the ruling party. She was a deputy minister of arts, culture, science and technology in South Africa’s first democratic government.
When the news of her death filtered through, messages of condolences, came from all sections of society and from across the globe. Trade unions also paid tribute to her key role in the anti-apartheid struggle and the post-democratic South Africa.
Says the Congress of South African Trade Unions spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla: “She stared down the evil apartheid regime, fearlessly fought it and ultimately outlived it. Throughout her life she remained a warrior for social justice and never shied away from speaking truth to power, even after the 1994 democratic breakthrough. She was a fearless voice and a staunch defender of the working-class interests and spoke out against the perpetuation of apartheid separate development, growing inequality and deepening poverty. She championed economic transformation without fear or favour and spoke out consistently against social injustice.”
Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions said: “We have a lost a gallant fighter in our people’s struggle for emancipation. She was a revolutionary woman, who was never prepared to be just Nelson Mandela’s wife but a fearless fighter moulded in the struggle against apartheid and a role model for women today. She will always be an inspiration for a future generation of women revolutionaries.”
Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL Global Union regional secretary for sub Saharan Africa remembered her for exceptional bravery. “Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s legacy is that of a woman who fought bravely against the apartheid repression. Her struggle, in which she made huge personal sacrifices, is an inspiration to all of us. She is the people’s hero and that is why she was called Mother of the Nation.”
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