The lofty speeches from political leaders may have taken centre stage during yesterday’s memorial services for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, but in the so-called “cheap seats” of Orlando Stadium, an unassuming mourner shared a memory of the struggle icon that perfectly illustrated the iron spirit of Madikizela-Mandela and her simultaneous motherly concern for those involved in the struggle.
“Winnie came running out from her house, barefoot with just her nightgown on, as soon as she heard that a child, Hector Pieterson, had been shot,” began a close family friend of Madikizela-Mandela, who did not want to be named.
She was sitting by herself in an empty part of the slowly filling Orlando Stadium in Soweto, as she remembered out loud that it was a Wednesday morning similar to this one, in June 1976, when she had her most dramatic encounter with her hero.
She was 16 years old at the time and Madikizela-Mandela was her elder.
“A few of the children came out of Ipelegeng Primary School, near White City. Someone shouted for them to be sent back, but some had managed to push themselves into the crowd of us high school pupils. We ran up the road towards Morris Isaacson Primary School. As we got to the crossroads, some people shouted at us to slow down. We were getting near Winnie’s house in Orlando West when we saw the boy carrying Hector.
“The older men took Hector to his home. But someone had already told Winnie that the whites had killed a child,” she recalled. “Winnie came sprinting out in a nightgown with no shoes on screaming ‘where is the child who has been wounded?’
“When we showed her to the house she went in. Hector did not die where his memorial stands, he died at Ipelegeng Primary School, at about 9am.
“The air was dark with teargas. When the parents returned from work, they decided to burn everything belonging to the whites.”
While the crowd was remembering Madikizela-Mandela, with singing, dancing and speeches, she followed this dramatic memory, showing The Citizen photos of her in the Mandela house in the days following Madikizela-Mandela’s death last week.
“I was sitting on the mattress with Zenani (Mandela) who had invited me in, as not many people had arrived yet.”
The woman, who was both a member of the ANC Women’s League and part of Madikizela-Mandela’s branch of the Methodist Women’s Manyano, began to sob into the ANC doek tied around her neck as she lamented her heroine’s “unexpected” death.
“She was with us in church on Easter Friday, she was there on Saturday and on Sunday. When I heard she had died, I thought they were lying.”
Around her, hundreds were becoming thousands of mourners, many dressed in political regalia, from surrounding areas.
Tato Simelane, a 41-year-old welder from Tembisa near Midrand was elsewhere in the crowd. He told The Citizen she had woken up at 4am to make the commute to the event.
A kaleidoscope of political parties’ colours, from the EFF, the PAC, the ANC and Azapo, peppered the half-filled stadium, proving that although she spent her life as a member of the ANC, Mam’ Winnie truly belonged to all in SA.