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Rhodes mourns MaMbeki

Date Released: Mon, 9 June 2014 12:00 +0200

Rhodes University mourns the passing of its alumna, activist and struggle stalwart, Dr Epainette Mbeki on Saturday, 07 June 2014, at a private hospital in East London in the Eastern Cape. She was 98-years-old.

The mother of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, affectionately known as “MaMbeki” was admitted to hospital two weeks ago for medical observation after she experienced respiratory problems.

In April 2012 Rhodes awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa to MaMbeki: a courageous, independent-minded, humble community leader, straight-talking and disciplined struggle stalwart.

She was honoured for her unique contribution to educational and social transformation in the Eastern Cape and South Africa for many decades.

Throughout her entire life MaMbeki was an active participant in various activities and projects designed to improve the lives of ordinary people. This active involvement goes back to her earlier years when she ran a branch of the Communist Party which was later banned alongside other political formations in the country.

She was amongst others, a member of the Transkei Women’s Zenzele Association. In the later years she formed two women’s projects Khanyisa and Masande. She was also running a home for destitute children in Qumra (Komga).

MaMbeki was a profound South African symbol of exceptional human endeavour and unwavering commitment to educational advancement and social development. Her symbolism was made more poignant and significant in that it was achieved under conditions of near insurmountable adversity.

Addressing the Faculty of Humanities graduation ceremony on 13 April 2012, MaMbeki said: “I acknowledge efforts that are being made in this regard, our government needs to double its efforts and channel more resources to these areas to develop a new breed of citizenry that will be able to make a meaningful contribution in the development of our country.”

“Our youth needs skills and access to education. A skilled and educated youth holds the keys to a prosperous country where the divide between the haves and have not is considerably narrowed. The future does not belong to us, it belongs to the youth,” she said.

About the honour she said, “it is a wonderful privilege to be awarded this honour by an institution whose contribution not only to human knowledge but also to the development of society is well documented; an institution that continues to make a profound impact on the development of human kind.” 

“I share this day with many other graduands who have spent several hard years engaged in research and other academic activities, adding to our knowledge. I say to them this is your day too and I congratulate you on your achievements.”

“I also share this honour with many other people from whom I have drawn courage, strength and inspiration and I would like to thank them as well.”

Epainette Mbeki was born in February 1916 in Mangoloaneng at Mount Fletcher, Transkei to Jacane and Sofi Moerane, progressive Christian farmers and teachers. MaMbeki had six siblings, and they all went to university. 

She studied at two iconic African schools, Lovedale College in Alice and Adams College in Amanzimtoti, where she graduated as a school teacher, enabling her in the late 1930s to take up a teaching post in Durban at the Taylor Street Secondary School. There she met a fellow teacher, her future husband, the late Govan Mbeki.

She raised her four children - eldest son Thabo, his sister Linda, and his brothers Moeletsi and Jama in Transkei, Mbewuleni village, making their home a cultural haven where literature and politics where discussed and classical music was played.

By Zamuxolo Matiwana