On 9 April an unofficial memorial ceremony took place at Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg for struggle stalwart Mam’Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. As The Mother of the Nation lived and fought, she gave birth to many young female liberators much like herself – as it is said; ‘She did not die. She multiplied.’ One such woman is actress, academic, #RememberKhwezi silent protestor, and #FeesMustFall activist Naledi Chirwa, who delivered a tribute that was both impactful and sobering.
Naledi’s speech did did not only capture Mam’Winnie’s grandeur in the most apt way; it was also a stern message which spoke to the social, economic, and racial ills allowed by the same government that Madikizela fought tooth and nail to exist. It was a call for change in Winnie’s name.
If you haven’t heard or seen it, take a moment to read this speech below and digest the magnitude of every word:
‘I greet you all in the name of a hero, of a storm, of a volcano, of a hero that lives in all of us. Of a political conscience, of our fighter, uMam’Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela-Mandela. And I’m gonna be short really today. I just want to remind us that like she said last year, “South Africa is a country in crisis.” We are in crisis because black women still can’t breathe. Black women still can’t breathe.
‘Black women are still subjected to working in retail shops and earning R2 500 per month. I’m here to remind you that domestic workers can’t report their rape cases that have been happening for years because they are scared that they will lose their jobs.
‘I’m here to remind you about Banyana Banyana. I’m here to remind you about Portia Modise, who has scored more international goals than any soccer player, and yet has not received any recognition from this country.
‘I’m here to remind you about Rhodes War – for women who fought at Rhodes University, fighting against rape and yet got excluded for life. I’m here to remind you about #FeesMustFall activists who are in jail as we speak. Some who are going in and out of court cases.
‘I’m here to remind you about girls living in rural areas who don’t have access to any clinics. Girls who don’t have access to safe reproductive health.
‘I’m here to remind you about us. The fact that we can’t breathe. We can’t breathe in corporate worlds. We can’t breathe with the law. We can’t breathe in our political spaces. We can’t breathe in our homes. We can’t breathe in taxi ranks. We can’t breathe.’
‘And if we are serious about carrying the legacy and the baton of Mam’ uNomzamo, we will ensure that from today onwards no HR department will function as long as women earn less than their male counterparts. We will ensure that sanitary towels are not a dream for some girls. We will ensure that safe abortions are accessible to us and that black girls don’t have to wait on waiting lists for three months until they can’t have their safe abortions.
‘We will ensure that queer women don’t have to pay with their lives to exist. We will ensure that lesbian women don’t have to die for them to exist. We will ensure that there’s a sex court for sex crimes – for women who’ve been raped. We are tired of rape crimes being treated the same as cellphone thuggery and thieves.
‘It must come to an end. That is the only way we will celebrate uMam’Nomzamo.’
‘The land is still not in our hands. We still don’t have economic freedom. We still can’t afford taxis. There’s many girls who would’ve loved to be here, but abanamali yetaxi.
‘So we also have to start moving from these spaces back into our townships and rural areas because Mam’uNomzamo is alive.
‘She’s alive and she’s living. She’s the very woman who stripped naked to cease fire at WITS University. She’s alive. And we have to start seeing her, because there has not been any justice for her or for any woman in this country who has wanted to speak out and be bold.
‘Thank you for coming, but I truly hope that honouring Mam’Nomzamo will go beyond ceremonies and one day events. I hope that we will start celebrating her in our homes. Ensuring that patriarchy suffocates until it dies, and capitalism suffocates until it dies, that rape suffocates until it dies. Because black women can’t breathe. Thank you.’
The call to action by Naledi Chirwa is one of the many moving tributes that continue to remind us daily of Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela’s gravitas and monumental contribution to the fight against apartheid.