Michelle Darrisaw
Apr, 03, 2018

Since Monday’s unfortunate announcement of the passing of Winnie Madikazela-Mandela at the age of 81, tributes to the former wife of President Nelson Mandela have been pouring in to commemorate her legacy and influence. Revered for her aggressive approach in championing the end of apartheid in South Africa, Madikazela-Mandela was respected by people from every walk of life, as witnessed at her 80th birthday bash in Cape Town in 2016.

Though her defiant rhetoric and controversial tactics used in her quest to liberate her people were often met with opposition, there was nothing but love and deference shown to the polarizing figure hailed as “mother of the nation” at her last big birthday celebration.

At the celebratory dinner held at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, Madikazela-Mandela looked as radiant and ageless as ever, wearing an elegant white and blue gown. Among her family and special attendees in the crowd, were President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Madam Dr. Bongi Ngema-Zuma, musician Thandiswa Mazwai and her daughter Zindzi Mandela.

But, perhaps, more than her everlasting beauty and vitality showed at the event was Madikazela-Mandela’s speech to her guests during the joyous occasion.

“I have to keep pinching myself to find out whether I’m really still alive,” she joked with the crowd. “I’ve never heard of such accolades when a person is still alive, especially a person like me who always offends one person or another whenever I speak.”

Contrary to what people may have expected, Madikazela-Mandela didn’t use her birthday speech to address political issues.

“I am not going to say anything about Marikana today, and I am not going to talk about the leadership in the country and the weakening rand,” she said.

What she did discuss, however, were her intended efforts to help the widows and orphans who were victims of the 2012 Marikana massacre. Proof that even at the age of 80, Madikazela-Mandela was still committed to the resistance and fight against human rights violations.

“Her greatest accolade was to ensure that Madiba [her late ex-husband Nelson Mandela] would never be forgotten, that his name would remain on the lips of the oppressed people of the world,” said Deputy President Ramaphosa during the birthday dinner. “That is why her 80th birthday is so important for us to tell her while the gods have spared her, we love her and thank her for keeping our struggle alive.”

You can watch the full speech above.