SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) - As tributes poured in for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who died on Monday, the head of South Africa’s leftist opposition party said misogynists in the ruling ANC had prevented her taking her rightful place as president.
Senior African National Congress (ANC) figures stood side-by-side with members of the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party outside Madikizela-Mandela’s red-brick house in Soweto, chanting songs from the struggle against white minority rule as mourners gathered for a second day.
“Winnie Mandela was supposed to be president of South Africa,” EFF leader Julius Malema told the crowd.
“But the men in the ANC were threatened by a woman and the whites were threatened by an African woman. That’s why they did everything to destroy her.”
Former ANC youth leader Malema - a strident critic of ousted president Jacob Zuma - was close to Madikizela-Mandela and has the same straight-talking appeal.
He was ejected from the ANC after being convicted of hate speech and created the EFF in 2013 which grew to be strong enough to be a ‘kingmaker’ in local government elections in 2016.
An ANC spokesman did not answer his phone when Reuters called to request comment on Malema’s remarks.
Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for her husband Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and emerged as a prominent liberation hero in her own right, but her legacy was later tarnished by allegations of violence.
She was among candidates for ANC deputy president in 1997, a position that would have teed her up for a top national leadership role, but withdrew her bid after failing to secure sufficient support.
“The Mother of the Nation would have restored the dignity of black people,” Malema said, adopting an epithet widely used in South African media to reflect respect for Madikizela-Mandela’s outspoken opposition to the apartheid regime.
Few ordinary South Africans focused on the darker chapters of her past, including a conviction for kidnapping and assaulting an activist found with his throat cut near her Soweto home.
“May she rest in peace for all the great work she has done,” said Johannesburg resident Esther Shabangu.
“I wish that all of us as women would take on the legacy she has left for black people in this country.”
Malema said Madikizela-Mandela’s 1991 conviction was a sham and pledged that the EFF would fight for the rights of black South Africans just as fearlessly as the anti-apartheid stalwart.
“The spear has fallen,” Malema said. “We are here to pick up the spear.”
Madikizela-Mandela will be given a state funeral at a stadium in Soweto on April 14, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement declaring national days of mourning between April 3 and 14.
Reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Robin Pomeroy