Johannesburg – Former president Thabo Mbeki’s 98-year-old mother Epainette Mbeki has died, the SABC reported on Saturday.
The Mbeki family confirmed that Epainette had died at a private hospital in East London in the Eastern Cape, the national broadcaster reported.
She was admitted to hospital two weeks ago for medical observation after she experienced respiratory problems.
Epainette Mbeki was born in February 1916 in Mangoloaneng at Mount Fletcher, Transkei.
She taught at the Taylor Street Secondary School after being educated at the Mariazell Mission, the Lovedale Teachers college and graduating from the Adams College in Durban.
She taught with Govan Mbeki, whom she later married. In 1937, Epainette Mbeki became the second black woman to join the Communist Party of SA, after Josie Palmer.
She then became an active member of the liberation movement in Durban.
She married Govan in 1940 and moved to the Transkei where the family set up a trading store in the Idutywa district.
The store earned the family a living and was run by Epainette Mbeki after her husband became involved in national politics.
The couple had four children, Linda, Thabo, Moeletsi and Jama. Epainette Mbeki raised them and contributed to her husband’s newspaper, Inkundla ya Bantu. Epainette Mbeki was also a founding member of the National African Chamber of Commerce.
After Govan was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Treason Trial, Epainette’s children Thabo, Moeletsi and Jama went into exile. She remained at Mbeluweni and kept the store open. She was continuously harassed by the authorities.
She moved to Ncgingwane in 1974, closer to the town of Dutywa where she continued to work as an activist for social upliftment and re-opened the family shop.
She continued to work toward uplifting her community until her death, supervising her many projects and giving advice to those who sought it.
In her later years, Epainette Mbeki – by then affectionately known as MaMbeki – ran a beadwork and sewing programme in her community.
After the ANC’s elective conference in Polokwane in 2007, when her son Thabo Mbeki was ousted as the president of the party, an opinion piece attributed to Epainette Mbeki appeared in the Sunday Times.
In it, she bemoaned the treatment of the then president, saying the country was on the verge of a “mighty upheaval”.
“And South Africa today is on the verge of a mighty upheaval that, if left unchecked, might set back all the gains our fledgling democracy has hitherto achieved on all fronts.
“The main horror is the attitude toward the presidency. A section of the public is bent on destroying the respectability of the office and besmirches the president’s name with all the vitriol reserved for enemies of the ANC,” the piece read.
Epainette Mbeki said the country needed a completely new Constitution and called for the revision of the country’s electoral system – a view shared by a later break-away party from the ANC, composed mostly of Thabo Mbeki supporters.
“Individual members of Parliament should be elected directly by citizens at polling stations in relevant, direct constituencies; and the party system should be abolished. It is deviant and people feel cheated. At present MPs are not accountable to the public.”
She also said Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters, should be disbanded.
“Luthuli House and what it stands for is a spoke in the wheel of progress; it is redundant.”
The piece unleashed a host of criticism from Thabo Mbeki’s detractors, with the Young Communist League even questioning whether she had written it at all.
She later made headlines again when she attended a Congress of the People meeting – the party formed after a split in the ANC due to Thabo Mbeki’s removal from office by the party’s post-Polokwane leadership.
After Thabo Mbeki’s removal from office, Epainette Mbeki reportedly said she held no ill-feelings toward his ousters, saying life was too short to harbour ill will.
In a September 2012 interview with The Star newspaper, Epainette Mbeki said she knew her cellphone number off by heart, enjoyed reading newspapers daily and watching television news.
Over the years, she also continued to make comments about politics.
In November 2012, ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference, The Times newspaper reported that Epainette Mebki had said President Jacob Zuma was the better choice though he may be too “easy going”.
“He is easy going and at times fails to make his own decisions,” she told the paper.
She said that she did not have confidence in his alternative, Kgalema Motlanthe – then the country’s deputy president – deeming him a “difficult character to understand”.
In the build-up to the 2014 general elections, Epainette Mbeki was visited by Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema who apologised to her saying the ANC had replaced her son with “nothing”.
In April this year, the City Press reported that Epainette Mbeki had responded by saying: “I am very pleased that Juju is here and am sure the youth is also here, it’s my main worry. Thank you for calling.”
Epainette Mbeki also told the newspaper at the time that her life still belonged “to the people”.
“People come here early in the mornings to ask for my advice and counsel, which I give wholeheartedly.”
She said that her two surviving children, Thabo Mbeki and Moeletsi Mbeki would contact her when they needed advice.
“They are grown men. They are very busy and I am also busy. But they always call every now and then when they want advice from their mother,” Epainette Mbeki said.