Winnie Madikizela-Mandela died at Milpark Hospital on Monday, aged 81. File picture: Mujahid Safodien/Independent Media

Johannesburg - Struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela wanted to be buried next to her parents in Mbhongweni Village in Bizana in the Eastern Cape - that is according to Gxaba Madikizela, a close relative of hers.

“We thought she would be buried here next to her parents (father Columbus Kokani Madikizela and mother MaRhadebe Mzaidume),” he said.

However, the 63-year-old ex-mineworker said the family had accepted the government’s decision to bury her in Johannesburg.

“We can’t change the decision,” he said.

The Madikizela’s claim was backed by former ANC national executive committee member and childhood friend Zuziwe Dlamini, who said Madikizela-Mandela always wanted to be buried next to her parents.

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In an interview at her modest homestead in Mbhongweni, Dlamini said the young Winnie Madikizela used to steal sweets from her father’s shop for her when they were growing up in the 1940s.

Zanyiwe, as the late former ANC Women’s League president is affectionately known in the picturesque Eastern Cape village, even made Dlamini her “itshikini” (a popular practice at schools in the former Transkei area in which two pupils declare themselves bosom buddies and shower each other with gifts).

“Zanyiwe used to steal sweets from her family’s shop and we were always together when we went to school choir competitions,” remembers the 82-year-old.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's childhood friend Zuziwe Dlamini remembers the days they went to primary school together. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Dlamini said she was at a SA Social Security Agency payment point at a general dealer in the village when the news of the passing of her friend was relayed to her.

“I was shocked, she was my friend,” Dlamini said on Wednesday.

She said she was saddened by the fact that her poor health will prevent her from attending the funeral service should it be held in Johannesburg as announced by the government earlier this week.

“I will always remember my friend,” she said.

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Dlamini continued: “Hamba kahle mngan’am, sobonana kwelizayo (Go well my friend, till we meet again in the hereafter).”

While the world outside Mbhongweni got to know Madikizela-Mandela as a fiery and feisty revolutionary, Dlamini said her friend was misunderstood.

“She never fought with anyone in the village,” she said.

Dlamini went to Mbhongweni Primary School which was established by Madikizela-Mandela’s father.

He later set up Ngalonkulu, the only high school in the village.

Dlamini said she and Madikizela-Mandela were ardent netball players at school.

“We met at Sub B (Grade 2) and we were together throughout our primary school years,” she said.

Dlamini said she dropped out of school and got married in 1950 at the age of 15.

“I stayed at home for a while because there was no one to assist me with pursuing my studies,” she explained.

Dlamini said she then lost contact with Madikizela-Mandela but kept in touch with her younger sister Nobantu, one of the two remaining siblings.

“We met again at the funeral of her youngest sibling, Msuthu, and we spoke about many things,” she said.

When Madikizela-Mandela last visited her home village in 2014 for the unveiling of the tombstones of her parents, siblings and other relatives, she could not meet her due to ill health.

Although Dlamini’s health has not improved, she still weeds her garden and hews firewood.

Madikizela-Mandela died at Milpark Hospital on Monday, aged 81.

Political Bureau