South Africa

Zindzi Mandela

Soweto: Winter cold and the pandemic deter mourners for Madiba’s daughter

Zindzi Mandela. (Photo: EPA / Tal Cohen)

Under normal – pre-Covid-19 – circumstances, the death of a Mandela would draw crowds well ahead of the funeral. In the pandemic winter, a few neighbours mourned privately and bemoaned the virus that made it so.

The streets were not overflowing as they had been after struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death, and the neighbourhood was unsettlingly quiet. The morning after the death of Zindzi Mandela, Soweto was filled with only the songs of birds and the gently creaking trees in the wind.

A few cars drove past Madikizela-Mandela’s house, but none of them stopped to eject mourners at the gate. 

While there appeared to be no visible mourners on Tuesday, the number of men keeping guard at the gate gradually increased. But as the morning lengthened, the cold weather and battering wind worsened and some of the men got in their cars and drove off, leaving the quiet place to the mercy of a few journalists and four men who remained at the gates.

“I was not well acquainted with the Mandelas. I know of their prominence but I would hear stories about them from my parents,” said a neighbour who added that she was not surprised that there were no mourners as she assumed they were kept away by the cold weather and the threat of  Covid-19.

Further down the street, a few people said they were not aware of Zindzi Mandela’s death, while others did not know who she was. As the afternoon started to settle in, there were no new visitors to the house.

Another neighbour, Pastor Bennet Mayekiso, lamented the physical distancing situation caused by the pandemic, saying he felt sad because he had buried all the Mandelas including Madikizela-Mandela and Madiba himself. He said due to his failing health, he might not be able to mourn Zindzi at her mother’s house.

Mayekiso, 87, spoke to Daily Maverick as he was cutting firewood in his yard. He said they had no electricity as it had been switched off at 11am.

“The whole neighbourhood has no power. We don’t know when it might be restored. Maybe at 8pm or 10pm,” he said.  “We did not expect her [Zindzi] to die so sudden. She was such a wonderful person. I am saddened by her death, especially since her death came only two years after her mother died.”

Under normal – pre-Covid-19 – circumstances, the death of a Mandela would draw crowds well ahead of the funeral. In winter during a pandemic, a few neighbours mourned privately and bemoaned the virus that made it so.

Pre-pandemic, leaders of political parties would have trickled in daily, well ahead of the funeral, turning the area into a hive of activity and colour. The restaurant area on the famous Vilakazi Street would be buzzing. Such were the scenes in the days leading up to Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral after her death in 2018.

But, Winnie wasn’t Zindziswa, and vice versa. Still, there are many parallels to draw between mother and daughter. Both were politically astute and both held their country and its people in high esteem.

Zindzi may be most widely remembered for the historical moment in 1985 when she read Madiba’s speech rejecting then-president PW Botha’s freedom offer.

At the time of her death at a Johannesburg hospital on Monday 13 July, she was South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark. She was 59, and leaves behind her husband and four children.

And while Mandela’s Soweto home remained quiet, tributes have continued to pour in.

Denmark’s ambassador to South Africa, Tobias Elling Rehfeld, said on Twitter: “I am saddened to hear that Ambassador Zindzi Mandela has passed away. Zindzi was a dear colleague working tirelessly and with a smile to nurture and grow the strong friendship between South Africa and Denmark. My deep condolences to the Mandela family.”

Beyond being the daughter of two icons, she will also be remembered as an activist in her own right and a woman with a generous heart.

“It feels so sad,” Jazzman Mabasa from the East Rand said. Mabasa described himself as a family friend. The 77-year-old said he and Zindzi were very close and that she had hosted his 50th birthday at Ubuntu Kraal 27 years ago.

“I didn’t expect her to die so soon, I thought she would recover from her illness.” DM

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