Former Commonwealth secretary general Sir Shridath Ramphal today hailed the late Winnie Mandela as “the embodiment of the struggle” against apartheid.
The Guyana-born Sir Shridath, who served as secretary general of the Commonwealth from 1975 to 1990 and was in the forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and for the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, joined millions around the world in mourning her death.
“As South Africa marks the passing of Winnie Mandela with a state funeral [on April 14], the Commonwealth and the Caribbean must let South Africans know that we are there in spirit,” Sir Shridath said in a press statement issued today.
He pointed out that “in the days before Nelson Mandela was released, Winnie was his symbol to whom we all related, and she was the embodiment of the struggle for which he suffered.
“When the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group sent Dame Nita Barrow [the former Governor-General of Barbados] into Soweto with Winnie in 1986 unknown to P.W.Botha, the apartheid president of South Africa – it was a Commonwealth and Caribbean expression of alliance with the struggle.
“When my official home, as Commonwealth secretary general, in London was the first Winnie visited with Nelson on his release – to meet his ‘anti-apartheid’ friends – it was a statement from her of love and gratitude to us all – as she wrote in our visitor’s book. On the occasion of her state Funeral we must be there with her in spirit – and in remembrance of our privilege to have been by her side when it mattered most,” the statement added.
Today, the Antigua and Barbuda government also paid tribute to the late anti-apartheid activist, who died at her home in South Africa on Monday at age 81.
“The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has learned of the passing of Mrs Winnie Mandela, the first wife of Nelson Mandela, who was instrumental in bringing freedom to South Africa. She had been an integral part of the movement against apartheid,” prime minister Gaston Browne said in a statement.
He said even though she had been banned and her life made very difficult following the 28 year jail term of her husband, Winnie Mandela seized the leadership at a time when great courage and intestinal fortitude were required.“She organized both women and youth who conducted an unrelenting struggle against the wicked system of legalized racism. It was her advocacy, in collaboration with many world leaders, that contributed to the isolation of South Africa.”
Browne said that when Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London later this month, “Winnie Mandela’s contribution to freedom will undoubtedly be remembered”.
He said the Commonwealth had played a “significant role in causing South African teams to be excluded from international cricket, football, rugby, tennis and other sports”.
Browne said that the black South African fight against apartheid “was a long walk to freedom which received the support of our tiny country since 1960, when South African wines, foods and other products were banned from entering Antigua by Chief Minister Vere Cornwall Bird.
“The fight for development is universal and courageous men and women are always called upon to lead when times are challenging—in the past and today. Winnie Mandela was courageous. Long live Winnie Mandela! Long live the struggle of the people of South Africa against oppression! Long live freedom!,” Browne added.