Dutywa - Tenacious, independent, dedicated, straight-talking, resilient, extraordinary and modest.
These were just some of the words used to describe former president Thabo Mbeki’s mother Epainette, who was laid to rest in Dutywa in the Eastern Cape on Saturday.
Born Epainette Moerane in Mangoloaneng, near Mount Fletcher on February 16, 1916, MaMbeki, as she was affectionately known, died in East London last week aged 98.
Hundreds of locals, as well as several members of President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet and other dignitaries gathered in windy conditions under a white tent erected a few kilometres outside Dutywa to pay their last respects.
The funeral went smoothly except towards the end of the programme when disaster management officials asked mourners to evacuate the shaky tent as a precautionary measure because of the strong wind.
But before that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a moving eulogy on behalf of the government, describing MaMbeki as a “true fighter” and a “flower that will always blossom” in the hearts of millions of South Africans.
“It is an honour and pleasure to represent President Jacob Zuma at this proceeding. He’s not able to be with us and he has asked me to represent him,” said Ramaphosa.
“The sacrifices of MaMbeki and others have brought us this far, yet more still needs to be done. The triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality needs the spirit of MaMbeki. It needs the dedication of MaMbeki. It needs the tenacity of MaMbeki and it needs the endurance that she had; for 75 years of her life she dedicated those years to serving our people faithfully with integrity and with true commitment. How I wish that we could all be like MaMbeki. How I wish that I too can be like her,” said Ramaphosa to applause.
The ceremony was not without its light moments. Community representative Novamile Mnyatheli had the crowd in stitches as she gave a personal and humorous account of her days working with MaMbeki in the village.
“She picked us up while sitting next to the kraal not knowing much. She said there were people like me who sit around drinking places not knowing what to do. At the time we didn’t even know what a project was. When we asked her what a project was she said we must use our skills. I didn’t even know what a skill was,” said Mnyatheli to sounds of laughter.
Grandson Karl Mbeki, son of Moeletsi, also gave a moving tribute that had been written by Thabo Mbeki’s biographer, Mark Gevisser.
Karl said although she had spent much time in Joburg with her family in recent years, she had always been adamant that Ngcingwane was her home.
“Epainette Mbeki expressed remarkably little bitterness about her difficult life.
“She had a mischievous sense of humour, and loved to play the role of provocateur. Her questioning, free-thinking intellect and her commitment to social justice shaped the politics of all her children,” said Mbeki.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the funeral was fitting and respectful.
“We are quite happy with the decent and very dignified send off that has been given to MaMbeki as a way of acknowledging the role she has played, particularly giving up everything when her husband was in prison and children in exile. The decent and dignified sendoff befits her life.”
Mbeki is survived by her children Thabo, Moeletsi and Fezeka, her grandchildren Karl, Motselisi, Nobantu, Yolisa and Linda, and her great grandchildren Amandla, Kai and Bongolethu.