The late Deputy Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize has been remembered as a social activist and staunch advocate for social justice.

Mourners gathered at the Fourways Memorial Park in Johannesburg for her funeral on Saturday. Among them, President Cyril Ramaphosa who delivered the eulogy.

Mkhize died last week at the age of 69. Her family has confirmed that the late Deputy Minister had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.

Scattered across the little chapel in an attempt to abide by the COVID-19 regulations, some of Mkhize’s family, friends, and colleagues took moments to relay their memories of the activist. Mkhize was largely remembered for her commitment to seeking justice for all.

The President described Mkhize as a person who pioneered the introduction of sign language as one of the official languages in the country. Mkhize was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) NEC at the time of her passing and had also served as Higher Education and Training Minister, Home Affairs Minister, and Deputy Minister for Economic Development.

Mkhize also served as South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands. Ramaphosa has hailed her for her role in ensuring access and equality for persons living with disabilities.

“Professor Mkhize was one of the leading advocates for sign language to officially declared the 12th official language and for it to be professionalised and incorporated into the curriculum of our education system. Our departed colleague has left behind many good works.

Good works that are testified by many she brushed shoulders with during her journey on earth but what she has also left behind is a reminder that the values define us more than what we were. She was one South African who truly loved her country. She was a compassionate leader, she was a peacemaker and a bridge builder. She was an influential leader but she was also very humble. She was respectful to all our people. Importantly, she was also an honest leader.”

Battle with cancer

The news of Mkhize’s diagnosis with lung cancer was not shared widely, a painfully kept secret within her family. Her daughter, Zinzi Mkhize-Vabaza relays Mkhize’s battle with cancer and its effect on the family.

“I’m still in disbelief that I’m standing up here speaking about my mother in the past tense. In March 2017, our world as a family came tumbling down, that’s when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I remember sitting in the office with my dad and being told that she had 19 months to live and to advise her to step down from her position.

At that time she had just been appointed Minister of Home Affairs. Ever the dedicated servant leader, mom had asked us to represent her at the doctor’s office as she couldn’t make it due to meetings. My dad and I stood in the hospital parking lot in shock thinking what now? ”

The husband of the late Deputy Minister, Pat Mkhize paid a warm tribute to his late wife. Mkhize recollects moments with the late Deputy Minister, offering a light moment from the somber mood in the chapel.

He says Mkhize did not want to be referred to with enduring terms and only preferred her name. Mkhize says she was only interested in good faith and being trusted.

“I address you – Hlengiwe because all those intimacies or endearing ways like “darling, sweetheart, umntakwethu, love” etc mean nothing to you. You are more interested in good faith and being trusted. Or you’ll respond smilingly if I use those intimate words. You will say, when I say “Darling…” you will say, “Pat, are you in a good mood ?”; “Yes, my Hlengi I’m in a good mood.”

World of politics

A life dedicated to activism, Mkhize entered the world of politics as a student. ANC veteran. Reverend Frank Chikane, whom she met in the 1970s as a student activist, has described the late Deputy Minister as a well-rounded and reliable leader.

He says Mkhize was a committed person striving for the well-being of the people of South Africa. Chikane says Mkhize was a decisive leader with integrity.

“She was characterised by a high level of integrity. A leader with clear boundaries of what can and what can not be done. What remains is for us who are still alive to continue fighting for the nature of the society we struggled for together with you and for which many of our comrades paid the ultimate sacrifice and died.”

Former Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who paid a virtual tribute to the late Deputy Minister, says she was always prepared to fight for the vulnerable and the voiceless. Buthelezi says she was determined to achieve justice at all costs.

“The Honourable Mkhize and I served together in the National Assembly. I know… in her a fellow leader, someone who was prepared at all costs to incur social justice for the vulnerable and the voiceless. South Africa is privileged to have had her leadership. There are many in our country who may not even know what the honourable Professor Mkhize did for them yet they are enjoying the rewards of her labours. The spoken gratitude expressed today by those of us who understand the demands of servant leadership requires the tremendous sacrifice of self which Honourable Mkhize gladly made.”

Mkhize is survived by her three daughters, son, grandchild and husband. She was laid to rest at the Fourways cemetery.

Mkhize’s funeral service: