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Johannesburg - Tributes poured in on Saturday for anti-apartheid activist Epainette Mbeki.
MaMbeki, as she was affectionately known, passed away at the age of 98 in the early hours of on Saturday morning.
She had been admitted to an Eastern Cape hospital for two weeks suffering from a chest infection and heart problems. “The family greatly appreciates the messages of support it received during our mother’s hospitalisation and since her passing,” said Moeletsi Mbeki, one of her two sons.
President Jacob Zuma said “words are not adequate to explain the sad loss of this mother of our nation. A consummate activist in her own right who dedicated her life and that of her family to the struggle for liberation in South Africa from an early age, Mrs Mbeki was fiercely outspoken until the end.
“We wish to express, on behalf of government and all South Africans, our deepest condolences and the nation’s solidarity with the Mbeki family.”
Brigalia Bam, chairperson of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, said the organisation learnt “with a deep sense of loss” the passing “of our dear beloved Mrs Epainette Mbeki”.
“Gogo Epainette, a humble servant of the people, will be remembered for her selfless dedication to the upliftment of the communities she served,” said Bam.
Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the SACP, pointed out that keeping her countryside home kept MaMbeki closer to the poor. “Throughout her life, MaMbeki maintained contact and lived with and among the masses of our people, majority of who are the working class and poor especially in the countryside.
The ANC recalled that she held the fort at the Mbeki home when husband Govan was either imprisoned or hiding from apartheid police.
“MaMbeki single-handedly raised their kids who later joined the liberation struggle and made a sterling contribution,” said ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa. “Her passing has made South Africa poorer given her long history of activism and her contribution in the struggle against apartheid.”
MaMbeki was not one to hold back her political views.
After what she saw as humiliation of her son, Thabo, when recalling him as president of the country, she ditched the ruling ANC for the Congress of the People in 2008.
Some few weeks before the recent elections she welcomed Julius Malema to her home. The Economic Freedom Fighters leader visited her in April.
This is where she told journalists she’d vote for the EFF if she was still young. But her vote would remain with Cope.
The ANC didn’t take offence to her criticism, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told journalists in Pretoria on Saturday. This was because the party still saw her as one of its veterans.
“It is what we expect particularly from the veterans of the movement. They must put us in our place,” he said.