Catholic leaders praise Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was “a friend of South Africa’s poor,” church leaders said at her funeral service last Saturday.

“Victims of rape and all kinds of abuse always knew that they could call on Winnie, who would be there for them,” Bishop Victor Phalana said.

The former wife of the late South African President Nelson Mandela “mothered everybody,” he added.

Sister Hermenegild Makoro, secretary-general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, also spoke positively of Madikizela-Mandela.

She “was (a) very committed woman in her faith.”

Madikizela-Mandela, who had a “complex history,” was a “courageous leader,” a statement from the bishops’ conference said.

“In her resistance to oppression and in her hatred of injustice she inspired a whole country, galvanized the youth and inspired women,” it said.

Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service in the township of Soweto was attended by more than 40,000 mourners.

Among the dignitaries at the funeral were the leaders of the Republic of Congo and of Namibia, British model Naomi Campbell and American politician the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The funeral was organised by the African National Congress.

Noting that Madikizela-Mandela had “a suffering and impetuous heart,” the bishops said that witnessing the daily “deep humiliations” of her people and observing as a social worker the injustices and human rights abuses of apartheid “were bound to cloud the mind.”

In her work as Johannesburg’s first black female social worker, Madikizela-Mandela was routinely harassed by apartheid security forces.

She was imprisoned and tortured during Nelson Mandela’s 27-year incarceration for his fight against white minority rule.

The anti-apartheid struggle involved separation from her husband and children, banishment and continuous surveillance, “while bearing the expectations of the oppressed millions,” the bishops said.

“Her life was played out against the background of world attention.”

Madikizela-Mandela’s reputation was tarnished when evidence emerged of the brutality of her bodyguards, known as the “Mandela United Football Club.”

In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault, but her six-year jail sentence was reduced on appeal to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence.

“The majority of the poor never stopped loving her,” Phalana said.

Her “positive attributes were so much more than her flaws.

“Winnie filled the role of mother for so many people who felt abandoned.”

She “shared their lives, their pains, their crying and suffering,” Phalana said.

Madikizela-Mandela is buried at a memorial park north of Johannesburg.













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