Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s Tribute at the Memorial Service of the late Ambassador Miriam Makeba, Johannesburg, 15 November 2008
The Makeba Family
Grand Children Zenzi and Lumumba
Former President Thabo Mbeki and Sisi Zanele
Deputy President Baleka Mbete
Former Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
We received the news of her passing on with sadness and utter disbelief. It was so sudden and so final, but the consolation was that her hour came at a time when she was doing what she did best and what she loved. Though we shall never see her live on stage again, she will live on in our hearts and is immortalised through her beautiful music. Like Che Guevara a true internationalist, her life ended under foreign skies in Italy-Naples, in the service of humanity.
Like Ingrid Jonker’s poem entitled the child is not dead;
“The child is not dead; the child lifts his fists against his mother who shouts Africa! Shouts the breadth of freedom and the veld
In the locations of the cordoned heart”
“The child lifts his fists against his father
In the march of the generations
Who shouts Africa! Shout the breadth
Of righteousness and blood
In the streets of his embattled pride”
“The child is not dead not at Langa or Nyanga
Not at Orlando nor at Sharpevillle
Nor at the police station at Philipi
Where he lies with a bullet through his brain”
We can assert that which is obvious that our beloved Miriam Makeba did not die but continues to live in the hearts of our people- be it in Soweto or Mamelodi, be it in Cape Town or in Durban, be it in Matatiele or in Kimberly- indeed she continues to live in the hearts of millions of people across the length and breadth of our country.
Miriam Makeba a citizen of the world- did not die in Paris nor in Washington-not in Senegal nor in Gaborone, not Guinea or in Mbabane nor in Cuba, China, India nor Cairo. She continues to sing “Pata-Pata” as she calls for the mobilisation of global resources to help make the world a better place for all who live in it.
She continues to shout Africa! In which she spent the better part of her life mobilising against the system of apartheid which visited misery to millions of our people, destabilised the region militarily while banishing her from her own home country for so many decades.
She will continue to sing in our houses, in our theatres and halls. She will continue to make generations to come so happy with her music.
It is therefore, befitting that we are all here to pay tribute and to celebrate an extraordinary life of Mama Africa as she was fondly known on our beloved continent.
A daughter, sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, friend, one of the greatest musicians of our time, who became an illustrious citizen of the world.
Many of us were introduced to Mama Africa through her amazing voice long before we had to meet her in person. When we eventually met her, we discovered that she was even a more beautiful person than her music. Her humility, her kindness and her generosity was exemplary.
Many years ago one of my daughter’s luggage did not arrive in Paris, she then met Miriam for the first time by sheer coincidence at the Ambassadors house, she heard about the luggage and she immediately gave her money so that she could buy herself clothes. There are many other examples of her generosity.
She was also very firm, she did not allow her audience to misbehave. Once she was performing and though some people were on the dance floor dancing to the rhythm of her music, there were some who had had a few glasses of wine and their voices were a bit loud. She stopped singing and told them in no uncertain terms how to behave. She did that because she loved what she did and she wanted people to enjoy her music.
She was a loving person, though she was such a great woman when you were with her she was ever so humble, ever so respectful of young and old alike.
I have met many a minister, many a diplomat, many a person who relates how they were introduced to the South African struggle by Miriam through her music.
To us Ambassador Makeba, whom we were privileged to interact with, remains one of the best and truly African icons who did not shy away from making African Music universal at a time when everything African was viewed from pessimistic lenses.
Because of this unflinching commitment to the cause of Africa her people it is only correct that Miriam Makeba on whose account we today gather became an honorary citizen of several African countries.
Recognising her commitment to the cause of the people of our country, it was only befitting that the then President, Thabo Mbeki did not flinch in appointing her South Africa’s Goodwill Ambassador.
We did so primarily because of our own belief in the unquestionable ability of Miriam Makeba to mobilise the international community behind national efforts aimed at creating a better life for all.
On appointing her, he had this to say;
“One of our daughters and mothers, Miriam Makeba, has, in reality become a citizen of the world.
She has distinguished herself on our continent and beyond as one of the most well-known and beloved musicians and personalities of our era.
During her period in exile she made valuable friends and became internationally recognised for her music. She has not only been active in the music and the political arena, but has made valuable contributions to and has been recognised for her work in the social, cultural and humanitarian fields.
Her fearless humanitarianism earned her the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize in 1986. The ordinary people of our continent gave her the title, Mama Africa!
As we strengthen our bonds of friendship and solidarity with our fellow Africans and to reinforce our work in this regard, I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Mama Africa, as South Africa’s Goodwill Ambassador to Africa.”
In reality Mama Africa had been South Africa’s Ambassador for many decades. She did it without the official title and privileges. She was the best Ambassador and what was done in 2001 was to recognise her as such.
We are indeed celebrating an extraordinary life. Mama Africa’s span of 76 years was a life well spent with enormous experience. She had difficult times like all of us, she experienced pain including losing loved ones in foreign lands, she also knew good times. She led a full life.
Mama Africa continued her good humanitarian work after coming back home. She was always concerned about the suffering of fellow human beings and women in particular.
She understood all so well that the struggle against poverty and the struggle for a better life continued. She understood that each and every one of us has a contribution to make, that we should not only wait for government. Her compassion and love for her people drove her to establish the Makeba Center for Girls.
She contributed a lot to a better life not only in South Africa but in many African Countries as Goodwill Ambassador. To mention but one such contribution, our then Ambassador to Egypt, Ambassador Mdlalose wanted South Africa to contribute towards the construction of a children’s hospital in Cairo. Unfortunately we did not have money in Foreign Affairs. We agreed that when I pay an official visit to Egypt, we would host a fundraising dinner and donate the proceeds. I then discussed this issue with Mama Africa and she agreed to perform at that dinner.
That hospital has now been constructed and one of the wards is dedicated to South Africa and named after Ambassador Mdlalose’s son who unfortunately died in a car accident and was buried on the very day of that dinner.
To the entire family, the grandchildren, though its always painful when one of the loved ones depart especially because it is so final, the love she gave you, the lessons she taught you and the fond memories she leaves you with, will sustain you forever.
We therefore join members of her broader South African, African and indeed members of the world family in extending our heartfelt condolences during this hour of bereavement.
Africa mourns! Africa sings- for its beloved daughter, mother, sister, and grandmother- for you are a flower that will indeed forever blossom in our hearts. Go yee African Queen, sing for the heavens and the angels the click song-Igqirha lendlela nguqongqothwane! She will continue to sing in heaven and it will be a matter of time before they also call her “Mama Heaven”
On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our Ambassadors and High Commissioners based in missions abroad, Management and staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs, sithi Aluhlanga! Lungehlanga! We will forever be indebted to you for your invaluable contribution to the cause of the African renewal!
Hamba Kahle Mama Africa, usikhonzele kubo bonke esibaziyo nesingabazi.
May your soul rest in peace.