President Yoweri Museveni has paid tribute to Mama Winnie Mandela, saying she played a critical role in keeping the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa alive, especially after the jailing of Nelson Mandela in 1964.
The President’s eulogy was delivered today at the South African High Commission in Kampala where he had gone to sign a condolence book and condole with the staff.
Winnie Madikizela Mandela, the former wife of South African anti-apartheid icon and first post-apartheid African president, Nelson Mandela, passed away on April 2 in Johannesburg aged 81. She will be buried on Saturday.
“In 1964 when Mzee Mandela was sent to jail, I was in Senior Four and I was following what was going on. He came out in 1990,” said President Museveni.
During those nearly 30 years, a lot of things had happened here in Uganda and in South Africa. I had finished my education, worked briefly for our government, participated in two wars, and became President of Uganda. Meanwhile in South Africa, a lot of things had happened too. Many anti-apartheid activists had been imprisoned, exiled and others killed,” he added.
Addressing journalists at the commission premises, President Museveni recalled pictures of a younger Mandela appearing in public with a beautiful young lady besides him.
“When he was imprisoned, this young lady became the face of the African National Congress. She had her own fair share of arrests and detentions. She was actually jailed. She was the face of the struggle until the early 70s when other faces began to appear to support the cause. The likes of Steve Biko, COSATU and then the 1976 Soweto student uprising, came after,” said President Museveni.
“Winnie Mandela filled an indispensable gap for the struggle of our people in South Africa. And all this, minus any prior preparation for this role,” he said.
Asked by journalists why the NRM government supported the ANC to the point of offering training facilities and sanctuary during the anti-apartheid struggle, President Museveni, responded: “It was my duty because I am not a traitor. African people were fighting for their survival. I had to support them.”
He said the decision had compelled then South African President Frederik De Klerk to threaten him, threats he simply ignored. He added that the decision had been more imperative especially after ANC bases in Mozambique were destroyed and fighters expelled.
The Acting South African High Commissioner Xolela Nofukuka enumerated Winnie Mandela’s contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle, saying South Africa had lost a true heroine.
He thanked President Museveni for visiting the commission, saying it reinforced the countries ties, dating back to days of the anti-apartheid struggle.
Mr Nofukuka said South Africa is simply a call away from Uganda, noting that President Museveni has enjoyed cordial relations with his South African counterparts Jacob Zuma and now Cyril Ramaphosa.