SOWETO, South Africa – The skies over Soweto waited to rip open and weep with the rest of South Africa until almost the very end of the long and spirited farewell here today for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – the “mother of the nation.”
The state funeral for the 81-year-old freedom fighter was held in a packed soccer stadium, awash in yellow and green, the colors of the African National Congress, or ANC, which she devoted much of her life to. The prayers, speeches and music began in the searing sunshine Saturday morning and stretched well into the afternoon.
But as a military honor guard began to wheel Madikizela-Mandela’s flag draped casket out of the stadium, the skies exploded, forcing thousands of mourners – including heads of state, foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries from across African and around the world – to seek shelter, save for one modestly-dressed man. He remained in the soaked stands, his fist thrust in the air in a final salute to the woman called “Mama Winnie” by everyone from the poor children of Soweto to the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the eulogy.
Before the storm hit, it was cheers, not thunder, that rolled through the stadium when Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., was introduced by the mistress of ceremonies as the “head of the delegation from the United States.”
“They were acknowledging the role that African Americans played in their struggle,” Rev. Jackson says. “Randall Robinson, Marion Barry, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, our struggle to help free South Africa was recognized.”
The highest ranking American official in attendance was the charge d’affaires from the U.S embassy. Although South Africa has the largest economy on the resource-rich continent and the most powerful military, the Trump administration has failed to appoint an ambassador to this strategically vital country.
Rev. Jackson has long recognized the importance of South Africa and its freedom struggle. He first visited the country in 1979, the depths of apartheid. “I was here when Winnie was banned,” he says. “When her husband was in prison. When Oliver Tambo was exiled. When the United States government called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.”
Today, as he sat in the stands, Rev. Jackson nodded his head in agreement when Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter, Ambassador Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, told the tens of thousands in attendance that it was her mother who “kept my father’s memory alive” while he was in prison for 27 years.
“She dared to take on one of the most powerful and evil regimes of the last century,” she said. “And she triumphed.”
The 40,000-seat stadium was almost completely full of people dancing and singing and whistling in between the speeches and prayers.
“She represented the dreams of the most basic underclass,” Rev. Jackson says. “The dreams of those who went to jail, the people who suffered the most, who lived in the shanties, who worked hardest for the least amount of wages. She represented the broadest base of people, lifting their aspirations. That’s why that stadium was packed today. That’s why freedom loving people all over the world will never forget Mama Winnie Mandela.”
James Gomez, Jr.
Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justicearound the world.
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