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S.Africa bids emotional farewell to ‘Mama Winnie’ Mandela

Soweto, South Africa | AFP | Thousands of mourners flocked Wednesday to the heart of South Africa’s sprawling Soweto township, a centre of anti-apartheid resistance, to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela’s former wife and struggle hero Winnie Mandela.

Her grandson Bambatha Mandela described Winnie, who died on April 2 after a long illness, as “an extraordinary woman, a mother, a soldier, a fighter”.

“Even at 81 (she) was one person I thought would live forever,” he said in an emotional tribute. “I had the privilege of being the first grandchild they could raise after (Nelson Mandela) returned from prison.”

The choice of Soweto’s 37,000-capacity Orlando stadium for both the memorial service and the full state funeral planned for Saturday was highly symbolic.

Unlike many struggle-era leaders who moved from townships like Soweto to formerly white suburbs after apartheid fell, Winnie Mandela remained embedded in the community where she met Nelson Mandela at a bus stop in 1957.

“She could have gone to the suburbs like many of us did, but she chose not to,” Bambatha said.

“I don’t think I want to wake up alongside my enemies,” he remembered her as saying.

Sunshine broke through a dense cloud cover over Soweto during multi-faith prayers, while outside the stadium a motorcycle club sporting African National Congress (ANC) colours arrived at the stadium to pay their respects.

– ‘Fighting spirit’ –

The Soweto Gospel Choir sang several rousing numbers which prompted mourners to stand and dance beside their plastic foldaway seats.

“Long live the fighting spirit of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela”, and “Viva Soweto!” cried the master of ceremonies to spirited chanting from the crowd.

“Every time we met Mrs. Mandela, she’d tell wonderful stories, she was like no other,” church leader John Moletsane told AFP as he made his way to the ceremony.

“Everyone wanted to meet her. When we’d see her at an event, we’d know it would be great.

“She would tell you about how to build the future and not look to the past. I don’t know where South Africa would be without her — no one can fill her space.”

A handful of mourners inside the stadium wore the red of the radical opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, which Winnie Mandela grew close to in later life.


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