Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., has been invited by the family of Winnie Mandela to join them in saying farewell to “the mother of the struggle.”
Winnie Mandela died in South Africa on April 2 at age 81. Memorial services and celebrations of her remarkable life will be held throughout the week with the funeral scheduled for Saturday, April 14 in Soweto.
Rev. Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, will leave Wednesday, April 11 for South Africa, an 18-hour journey to a country he first visited in 1979.
As a two-time presidential candidate in the 1980’s, Rev. Jackson helped put South Africa on the political map in the United States with his fierce opposition to apartheid and his repeated demand – free Nelson Mandela.
In 1990, when Mandela walked out of prison near Cape Town, after 27 years in custody, holding hands with his then wife and fellow freedom fighter, Winnie, Rev. Jackson was there to greet them.
When Mandela – the first president of the new and free South Africa – died in 2013 at age 95, Rev. Jackson was honored to attend the burial near Mandela’s ancestral home in the small rural village of Qunu.
The passing of Winnie Mandela marks the end of a proud, painful, triumphant era in the movement for freedom and justice around the world – and the end of her decades-long friendship with Rev. Jackson and his wife, Jacqueline, who will also attend the funeral.
“When the roll is called of freedom fighters who changed the world and made it better, the name Winnie Mandela will be near the top of the list,” Rev. Jackson says.
She played a pivotal role in the South African freedom movement. In a time before cell phones, cable television and social media, Rev. Jackson says, “Few outside of South African knew much about the African National Congress (ANC) or Nelson Mandela or Robben Island where he was locked away out of sight for so long.”
Winnie Mandela made sure that neither he nor their cause would be forgotten in his absence. For 27 years, she was his voice, his social media, spreading the word, keeping the faith. “She had children to raise and a nation to help emancipate,” Rev. Jackson says.
Winnie Mandela, he adds, “embodied the face of the ANC, the universal soul of the ANC. The never surrender character of the ANC. The audacity of the ANC. The sacrificial values of the ANC.”
And while she faced death threats, house arrest, internal exile, isolation, government propaganda and character assassination, Rev. Jackson says, “she never bowed. She never surrendered. We miss her so much already, our sister beloved, our rock upon which so much was built.”