If there was ever anyone who doubted the razor-sharp intelligence of Africans, the dawn of the 20th century-particularly in South Africa-threw all those unfounded doubts out of the window. The majority of those men and women who were born during that time, whom we now have the pleasure and privilege of calling father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfather and great-grandmother, went on to change the course of history in what was then a troubled and ugly South Africa. Mme Epainette Mbeki is among that illustrious list of brave men and women.
Let it be that centuries after all of us have pardoned ourselves from this world and the strict and often harsh books of history tell a tale of heroes and heroines who responded to a call when South Africa was ready to disappear at the hands of racist colonists and brutal oppressors, Mme Epainette’s name should be among those heroes and heroines; for she too responded to that call. Yes, she was the mother of former president Thabo Mbeki and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki; and it is also true that she was the wife of that shrewd African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) stalwart Ntate Govan Mbeki. But to restrict MaMbeki to those titles-which are important in their own right-would be foolish and shortsighted; for those are appendages that media throws around as if to jog the memory of an amnesiac nation. I have had the rare privilege of hearing a handful describe her as an independent thinker, a social activist and a nation’s mother amongst other noble titles. I know for sure that I would not be far off if I said Mme Epainette was a pioneer, an inspiration and an exemplary citizen of this world which she has now sadly departed.
Thus when I say in Mme Epainette Mbeki we have lost an enormous part of ourselves, I do not intend to sound melodramatic but to awaken South Africans to the subtle yet huge role Mme played in our individual lives. My countrymen, without the living soul and lively spirit of MaMbeki, South Africa and humanity are forever poor. It would not be a surprise if she dismissed our words of sorrow as mere exaggeration for the person she was. That is who she was; a humble servant of mankind. She not only shared herself with this nation but also displayed her immeasurable generosity by sharing her family with the world. If magnanimity should ever be defined in human form, Mme Epainette Mbeki would undoubtedly serve as the perfect candidate. I remember some years ago she was offered government perks as ‘Mother of the President’ which included living with her older son, having access to private health care and so on which she declined; electing rather to stay in her modest home in the village of Ngcingwane, Idutywa in the sleepy and quiet rural Eastern Cape among her people. She loathed fuss and the pomposity that came with making her as if she is more important than the next person. I can imagine her now in the unknown world of the non-living reciting a line from the revered English playwright and poet William Shakespeare: ‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead.’ Tsela tshweu morwadia Moerane. Robala ka kagiso mmaarona. Kgotsong!