JOHANNESBURG: Prominent South African Indians have paid tributes to Winnie Mandela, the former wife of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and one of the country's defining and most divisive figures.
The woman, who became the face of the anti-apartheid struggle while her husband was in prison for 27 years of apartheid rule, passed away yesterday at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. She was 81.
Her demise has triggered an outpouring of tributes from the leading South African Indians.
"News of her passing came just a few days after the first death anniversary of Ahmed Kathrada, and a few months after the passing of Laloo Chiba and Eddie Daniels. It deepens the sense of realisation that with their passing, we lose not only liberation activists, but sources of history that cannot be replaced," said Shan Balton, Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
"Comrade Winnie and Ahmed Kathrada shared a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship that extended from before Kathrada's imprisonment when he became close to both the Sisulu and Mandela families," said the Foundation's Chairperson, Derek Hanekom.
"Mama Winnie was loved by the Tamil community as well for her lifetime of sacrifice for all South Africans, which is why we as the Tamil Federation honoured her with the Valiamma Award in 2016," said Nadas Pillay, who was President of the Federation at the time.
Pillay recalled that Winnie Mandela was still in mourning for her former husband, Nelson Mandela, and could not speak herself, but acknowledged through her aide the role of Valiamma Munusamy in supporting Mahatma Gandhi's fight against oppression by giving her life in prison at just 16.
Internationally renowned filmmaker Anant Singh, who is a close friend of the Mandela family and produced the film version of Mandela's book 'Long Walk to Freedom,' said Winnie Mandela was a "remarkable woman" who kept the flame of the liberation struggle burning in South Africa while Madiba and his comrades were in prison.
"She remained a steadfast activist and an independent thinker who never waived from her principles and was always committed to the cause of our people. South Africa has lost a giant," Singh added.
Winnie Mandela, who was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, played a high-profile role in the struggle to end white-minority rule, but her place in history was stained by controversy and accusations of violence.