Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa address on the occasion of Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s 80th Birthday, Cape Town, 14 September 2016
I am honoured and humbled by this opportunity to share this lifetime achievement with Mama Winnie.
It is rather strange to be forced to admit that Mama is 80 years old.
In her glow, sparking beauty and the fullness of her life she does not look a day over 20.
The only explanation for this must be an error in the printing of the invitations. I suppose it ought to read rather that Mama Winnie is today turning 20, for the 4th time!
Being 20 for the fourth time, it would seem that she has not only found the fountain of youth but has also chanced upon the fountain of wisdom.
Indeed, Mama Winnie has had a life of mixed-fortunes, taking it is her stride to represent everything about the tenacity of the human spirit.
She exemplifies everything about the African proverb “woman, you are a rock, uyimbokoto, o swara thipa ka bogaleng”
But she is not any other rock, she is a diamond, build to last a lifetime, build never to break.
She exudes the complexity, strength and beauty of an oblong.
At various angles, her life sparkles as a towering figure for the women of her generation and of those that are yet to come.
Harassed, hounded and tortured by a brutal and murderous apartheid state, she would not shatter.
Deprived of a normal family life, the absence of her husband, banned and imprisoned at will, she stood firm.
In her glow she generated the warmth to dote her children with the love that made the absence of their father seem a temporary inconvenience.
When the apartheid police came for her, she remained stoic in her determination to claim justice for her people.
She remained a symbol of strength for the many women who had lost their husbands to the liberation struggle.
Enduring the worst in the times of oppression she ensured that the people would not lose heart.
She served as a pictogram for those who lived in constant harassment from an imbecilic, illegitimate and cowardice apartheid state.
Regardless of her own pain, she ensured that the children and families of liberation were clothed and fed.
Her greatest accolade was to ensure that Madiba would never be forgotten, that his name would remain on the limps of the oppressed people of the world.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, we must acknowledge that her strength and generosity of spirit placed an inordinate burden upon her shoulders.
Standing in solitude she masked her pain; drowned out her cries and airbrushed the bruises of her suffering.
Somewhere deep and away from the glaring and roving eye of the public, she shouldered her pain alone, with inadequate recognition for her sacrifices.
That is why this day is so important that we may tell her while the Gods have spared her that we love her and thank her for keeping our struggle alive.
We know that she did not set-out on your struggle with the expectation of recognition or reward, but by the sheer weight of determination, her name will forever secure a permanent place in the history of our liberation struggle.
From her book of life, future generation will pick a leaf on what it means to be a phenomenal woman.
From her life they will know what it means to stand for justice.
From her life, they will know what it means to be faithful and loyal to the cause of human freedom.
From her life, they know that this is not a man’s world, that women too are heroes, that they too have shaped the course of our history.
We will tell them that she was a courageous woman who stood against oppression, lived to be 80 and lived her see her people free.
When future generations ask about her, we will tell them that Maya Angelou could have easy have had her in mind when she wrote the poem “And still I rise”; we will say:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Like everyone else she lived with fear, pain, loss and disappointment;
And yet each day she has arisen with the nobleness of the human spirit.
They tried to write her down in history with bitter and twisted lies; they trod her in the very dirt but still, like dust, she rose!
Her sassiness upset them; they were always beset with gloom because she walked like she had oil wells pumping in her living room.
Just likes the moons and like the suns, with the certainty of tides, just like hopes springing high, still she rose!
They wanted to see her broken; bowed head and lowered eyes, with her shoulders falling like teardrop, and weakened by soulful cries, but still she rose!
They said her haughtiness offended them?because she laughed like she had goldmines digging in her backyard.
They tried to shoot her with their words. They tried to cut her with their eyes. They tried to kill her with their hatefulness, but still, like air, she rose!
Out of the huts of history’s shame, she rose!
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain, she rose!
She was like a black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling, and yet she bore the tide.
At 80, leaving behind nights of terror and fear, she rises,
At 80, into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, she rises;
At 80, she still brings the gifts that our ancestors gave;
She remains the dream and hope of the slave.
And still, at 80, she rises!
I thank you.
Issued by the Presidency
14 September 2016