President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the Orlando stadium in Soweto on April 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the Orlando stadium in Soweto on April 14 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Persecuted and chastised in life, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has in death invoked the commitment of the country’s highest office to fulfil some of her deepest desires.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said at Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service at a packed Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday that the memory of the woman affectionately known as "Mama Winnie" or the "Mother of the Nation" could be honoured by pledging to dedicate "all our resources and energy" to empower the poor and vulnerable.

Madikizela-Mandela, a social worker, dedicated her life to the upliftment of mainly black communities struggling with poverty and unemployment.

"Let us honour her memory by pledging here that we will not betray the trust of her people‚ we will not squander or steal their resources‚ and that we will serve them diligently and selflessly," Ramaphosa said.

The president recalled the wishes Madikizela-Mandela had expressed to the ANC leadership shortly before her death.

She had spoken of her "deep desire" for unity and renewal of not only the ANC-led mass democratic movement but that of the nation too, he said. "She wanted a South African nation that would heal the divisions of the past and eradicate the inequality and injustice of the present."

Ramaphosa used the funeral to embark on another charm offensive with EFF leader Julius Malema, furthering ANC attempts to bring its former firebrand youth leader back into the party fold. The president addressed Malema directly in parts of the eulogy he delivered.

Madikizela-Mandela had wanted Malema to return to the party that expelled him.

Ramaphosa’s overtures come after he and Deputy President David Mabuza indicated earlier in 2018 they wanted Malema to return to the party.

The EFF is the third-biggest party in the country and could play a determining role in the 2019 elections, after it emerged as the kingmaker in the 2016 local government elections.

The Sunday Times reported that there had been informal discussions between senior leaders of the ANC and the EFF after Madikizela-Mandela had expressed her wish to either have Malema lead a comeback to the party, or co-operate in the national interest.

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za

There were tears, songs and fiery speeches as the nation bid farewell to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who was laid to rest in Johannesburg on April 14 2018.