As South Africa marks the passing of Winnie Mandela  with a State Funeral, I the Commonwealth and the Caribbean must let South Africans know that we are there in spirit. In the days before Nelson Mandela was released, Winnie was his symbol to whom we all related, and she was the embodiment of the struggle for which he suffered. When the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group sent Dame Nita Barrow (the former Governor-General of Barbados) into Soweto with Winnie in 1986 unknown to P.W.Botha, the Apartheid President of South Africa – it was a Commonwealth and Caribbean expression of alliance with the struggle. When my official home, as Commonwealth Secretary-General, in London was the first Winnie visited with Nelson on his release – to meet his ‘anti-apartheid’ friends – it was a statement from her of love and gratitude to us all – as she wrote in our visitor’s book .  

The late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

On the occasion of her State Funeral we must be there with her in spirit – and in remembrance of our privilege to have been by her side when it mattered most. 

Sir Shridath Ramphal is the Guyana-born former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (1975-1990) who was in the forefront of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and for the release from prison of Nelson Mandela