Remembering Winnie Madikizela Mandela: A tribute by Robert Gumede

Winnie Madikizela Mandela with the Gumede family. Image: Supplied

Winnie Madikizela Mandela with the Gumede family. Image: Supplied

Published Sep 30, 2022


September 26 would have been Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s 86th birthday. To remember and honour this South African icon, IOL is republishing a series of special tribute articles written by those who were closest to her.

These articles were first published on September 26 in a commemorative edition supplement in The Star and Pretoria News, as well as in a commemorative edition digital magazine.


By Robert Gumede

The mere mention of your name Mama Winnie ignites the chanting sound of the erstwhile ANC Women’s League slogan: “Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo (You Strike a woman, You Strike a Rock)”

For many years within the borders of our country, you kept alive the flame of hope to defeat the injustice of apartheid, as you took the baton from all our leaders who were incarcerated and in exile. You were a servant leader away from cameras, deep in the heart of squatter camps.

Indeed you were the Rock and Pillar that we all found refuge and support in. You led from the front, a fearless warrior.

Mama, you are truly the epitome of the meaning of the word “Mama” in its true sense, both during your life on earth and now in the afterlife. WE SALUTE YOU!

Your bravery over many years of struggle to stand up against the evil system of apartheid and its handlers, inspired us to be firm and resolute in our quest for liberation of our people in South Africa, but also inspired Mother Africa and its people to stand firm in believing that Africans can find African solutions for Africa.

Through your leadership, the enemy of the people at the time and many of its apartheid supporters globally used dirty tricks, out of fear of your leadership and power to unite all Africans, to slander your name and ridicule you as they feared you and your ability to unite our people. Your people were, however, not deterred by these actions and continued the fight for liberation led by you. Your ever present leadership from the front inspired the nation.

Whilst to many you are revered as a liberation freedom fighter, I am constantly reminded about your huge heart, listening ear and wherever assistance was required, your action to assist. A very rare skill possessed by a select few, is the ability to listen, show empathy and act to assist.

You are that rare gem Mama, a social worker extraordinaire in the true sense of your calling. Our Mother of the entire African Nation.

One of your biggest strengths was to always be amongst your people, to understand their pain, challenges and struggles and to work with them in finding solutions. This was clearly visible on each of our visits to your warm people’s home in the heart of Soweto which was always full of your people. Your unwavering support of the downtrodden can never be questioned and many people can give testimony to that.

My memory is also filled with the many interactions we had and the trips and activities we undertook in our conquest to make our Mother Africa a better place to live in for our people.

When called upon, you never once declined to give advice, assistance or lead. Through our many travels together, I noticed first hand the love and respect the people of Mother Africa had for you. They would be in awe to receive you, and addressed you at all times as Mama Africa - a true Mother of the African Nation.

During your time in South Africa, you were persecuted, tortured and removed from your role and position of being a fun-loving mother to your own children. Little did the apartheid government know that in giving you such sub-human treatment, they were igniting the flame of liberation within you that inspired our nation to seek liberation in our lifetime. From Cape to Cairo - Mama, you are multiplying.

Mama, my family and I always knew that you were just a call away. Your unwavering support to my family is permanently etched in our hearts. You supported us during good times and sad times when we had lost loved ones.

We still remain humbled by your visits to our home in recent times, at a time when you were not feeling well. The time spent and engagement with my entire family will forever hold a special memory. My little kids to this day were not only inspired by your grandmother role to them but your unmatched beauty and regal dress sense is carved in their minds - the beautiful Grandmother.

Thank you for playing the mother role to us. Your advice and guidance continues to have a special place amongst us. Your love of the African child and belief in Mother Africa remains unmatched.

In this your 86th birthday month, we wish you eternal peace and we promise to keep your legacy alive for generations to come. Rest well Mama and continue being our inspiration and guiding Angel.

Mama, we did not lose you, but gained an Angel!

Please pass on our Love to Tata Madiba and Sis Zindzi at dinner.


Robert Matana, Dr P and our Gumede Family

Read the Winnie Madikizela Mandela Commemorative Edition digimag below: