When the history of strong female leaders in South Africa is recorded, the name of the National Freedom Party (NFP) president Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi will feature prominently on the long list.
Condolences and tributes, including one from President Cyril Ramaphosa, have poured in for Magwaza-Msibi, who was highly respected by all parties in and outside parliament.
She died at the age of 59 on Monday due to cardiac arrest.
Magwaza-Msibi proved to be a very strong woman after she became the first female to be elected national chair of the male-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
In a democratic SA that promoted gender equality, Magwaza-Msibi’s position in the IFP gave the party’s president Mangosuthu Buthelezi sleepless nights as she threatened his leadership.
Ramaphosa paid a glowing tribute to her.
“Ms Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi was a leader who devoted herself to the betterment of the lives of young people and of women and set a strong example for how this could be achieved.
“She also enriched our parliamentary democracy with her intellect, integrity and dignity and showed that political opposition can be fearless and firm without being antagonistic.”
The IFP held her in high esteem, which was demonstrated by her elevation to the party national chair and being nominated as the party’s premier candidate for KwaZulu-Natal in the 2009 national election.
Due to tensions within the IFP, Magwaza-Msibi left and established the NFP, which she led with a stern hand and steadfastness.
She served as an IFP councillor for 19 years but was more famous as the mayor of Zululand district municipality, which she served under the IFP and later the NFP.
Her strength as a leader was once again proved when she did not confine NFP as a regional party.
The NFP won six seats in the National Assembly in the 2014 election which saw then president Jacob Zuma appoint her as deputy minister of science and technology.
The NFP’s growth amazed many because its parliamentary representation overtook that of parties such as the Congress of the People and the Pan Africanist Congress.
“May the family, friends and colleagues of Mama Zanele find solace in knowing that their loss is shared by the entire nation,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.