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In honour of Zoleka Mandela

The late activist, author, businesswoman and granddaughter to late struggle stalwarts, Nelson and Winnie Mandela; Zoleka Mandela was a beacon of hope. Having beaten breast cancer twice, she’ll always be a warrior in our eyes.

Referring to Zoleka Mandela in the past tense doesn’t feel right, as she is still alive in a lot of ways. This speaks to her impact and legacy, and the fight she put up against cancer. Undoubtedly, her digital presence will also be missed. Her Instagram feed particularly, reflects her authenticity and no holds barred approach to life. She was also relatable and felt familiar... maybe she was, considering that her family home is just down the road from my childhood home in Soweto. Not only did we have a few play dates at the Mandela home but we celebrated a few milestones with them too. Her grandfather, the late Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as ‘Tata’ was loved by the community so when he was released from prison and paid his neighbours a visit, he was welcomed with open arms. And when he moved out, his absence left a void.

It was only when I started learning about South African history that I fully grasped his role in the liberation struggle, and it was always comforting to know that even though he wasn’t down the road anymore, he was still present in other ways. As I grew older, I witnessed him being celebrated by a bigger community; ‘Tata’ was loved. And growing concerns over his health proved this too, ironically, when I started my first job as an intern at an international news agency, his story was one of the biggest stories we covered. Each update about his health would lead us to the Barry Hertzog Bridge overlooking Netcare Milpark Hospital or his Houghton home. We would follow him for a few days until we were reassured that he was stable. What a huge relief this was!

When I started a new job at a 24-hour news broadcaster, there was a sense of continuity as the coverage of his ailing health continued. I wasn’t prepared for the SMS I received from my manager on the 5th of December 2013 however, as I was getting ready for work, “Nelson Mandela has passed away, we’ll be wearing black to the office.” There was a time lapse and what followed was a long, morbid drive to the office. Indeed the country was in mourning; not only were we dressed in black but the studio was set up in honour of Tata too. And the studio guests shared fond memories of him. A colleague and I were due to go view his body as he lay in state at the Union buildings in Pretoria but my heart was heavy with grief. Madiba was immortalized in a lot of ways; he was almost larger than life so the idea of seeing his lifeless body just didn’t compute. Except, there was no sense of closure so I spent the next few years searching for traces of him in books and museums.

I watch a lot of talk shows so when I saw Zoleka Mandela on an SABC show a few years ago; I knew I had found the missing link. I instantly took a liking to her, and I’ve been following her journey since. Her relationship with her grandmother, the late Winnie Mandela whom she affectionately referred to as her “Day One” inspired me to love my granny harder. She would also visit her granny frequently at the Mandela family home so it brought back that same sense of comfort. And when she lost her grandmother, her pain was palpable but I was only able to fully relate when I lost mine.

Zoleka was a source of inspiration to many women as she continued to reinvent herself both personally and professionally. She was also vocal about the grief that accompanied the loss of her 2 children, and this created a space for healing for the community she built. Zoleka had her grandmother’s unbreakable spirit, her grandfather’s will and fearlessness, as well as her mother’s courage and compassion. It’s hard to describe someone like her because she was extraordinary in a lot of ways. Her battle with cancer was a long and public one; even on days when she admitted that she was scared, she continued to fight. She opened up her heart and home to us, allowing us to experience her life and children through her eyes. We weep for her, and them equally.

Her Instagram posts have always been a highlight for those of us who actively seek out positivity on the feed. The three words, “Peace, Passion, Positivity” hold so much more meaning now. This is Zoleka Mandela’s legacy, and her impact will be felt by generations to come. Just like the late Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, and Zindzi Mandela... Zoleka Mandela didn’t die, she multiplied. The world is a better place because they lived in it.

Rest Easy Queen.


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