New York

13 April 2018

Secretary-General’s remarks at the memorial service in honour of Ms. Winfred “Winnie” Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela [as delivered]

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I am deeply honoured to be joining with you to pay tribute to the memory of Ms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

I extend my deepest condolences to the Government and people of South Africa and to the family of the late Ms. Madikizela-Mandela.

“Mama Winnie” – as she was affectionately known – was a towering figure in the struggle against apartheid.

She was an international symbol of resistance who left an indelible mark on the history of the 20th century.

The outpouring of condolences since her passing shows what an enormous impact she had not only on the people of South Africa and on the African continent, but for millions around the world.

Faced with the most heinous of racist and discriminatory regimes, she helped lead the way in showing what it takes to overcome such tyranny – strength, defiance and courage.

She endured surveillance, harassment, torture and imprisonment, including in solitary confinement, making huge personal sacrifices.

Yet, through her resistance, she inspired countless others and helped keep hope alive through the darkest periods of the struggle.

As she noted in remarks following the heart-wrenching Soweto uprising, “We are aware that the road before us is uphill, but we shall fight to the bitter end for justice”.   

None of us would condone all actions across a complex and complicated life, but Winnie Mandela’s dedication was evident in her early activism and her work researching infant mortality in the Alexandra Township.

She was the first black social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, and witnessed the insidious effects of apartheid on the health and social wellbeing of her community. 

As a strong and fearless woman, she had to fight patriarchy’s definitions of womanhood.

In apartheid South Africa, the combination of patriarchy and racism together meant that black women confronted enormous obstacles from the cradle to the grave – making her own achievements all the more exceptional.

Her advocacy for women’s rights, including in her role as president of the ANC Women’s League, reflected her dedication to justice.

Her support of young people and their crucial contribution to a society’s development also highlighted her commitment to the inclusion and rights of groups often overlooked.

In the decades-long fight against apartheid, the United Nations stood with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and all those in South Africa, who faced unrelenting racism and discrimination.

Today, as we remember her, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to the ideals of equality, justice and humanity for all.

Thank you.