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'I wish she could have been here tonight'

Receiving an honorary doctorate bestowed posthumously on the iconic Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, her grandson, Zondwa Mandela, said that hers was a life lived far too short.

Zondwa Mandela, grandson of the late struggle stalwart Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela receiving the honorary degree from Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, on behalf of her family.

Unisa conferred the degree of Doctor of Social Work (honoris causa) posthumously on one of South Africa’s foremost struggle stalwarts, the late Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, at a graduation ceremony held at the Unisa Muckleneuk Campus in Pretoria on Tuesday 29 October 2019.

The historic event took place in the former Theo Van Wijk Building which was recently renamed the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Building in honour of this great African icon.

The honorary degree was conferred on the late Mrs Madikizela-Mandela in recognition of her revolutionary social work that impacted on individuals, groups and communities, her radical challenge to the apartheid system from the early stages of her life as a professional social worker, and the role she played in bringing social change as an activist and community developer to empower women.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mandla Makhanya, at the graduation of her granddaughter Zoleka Mandela in March 2018. This was one of Mama Winnie’s very last public appearances.

Her grandson Zondwa Mandela, representing the Madikizela-Mandela family, received the honorary degree on behalf of the family. In his speech, Mandela highlighted the importance of family, and spoke of the role and purpose of the African family within society. Fondly remembering his grandmother, he told the audience that it was her support that saw him through in the completion of his first degree during tough times.

"I must declare that it is quite difficult to receive this honour on her behalf, because hers was a life lived too short," said Mandela. "Collectively, the family would all have all loved hearing my grandmother speaking here tonight. She would have cherished this moment and we are saddened that we cannot experience it with her."

Mandela stressed that a university must be a neutral space and a place where everyone is welcome. "A university must recognise that it represents a diverse set of cultures, backgrounds and experiences," he said. "It must also be a place that acknowledges fallen soldiers in respect of the blood and tears that many sacrificed to build this great nation of ours. It is clear that Unisa is committed to alleviating the stigma of systematic injustices by creating an environment that is inclusive to all members of society as representatives of the community it seeks to serve."

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said that it is appropriate to honour Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela by bestowing on her an honorary doctorate posthumously. "Moreover," he said, "we are delighted to do so in the building that now carries her name. We are truly humbled to take this moment to remember, honour and pay tribute to the mother of the nation, Mama Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela."

* By Edgar Rathelele, Senior Media Officer, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2019/10/31