Jacob Zuma says no one can erase the contributions made by struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in liberating South Africa.
The former president was speaking to the media after he made a low-key visit to the struggle heroine's home in Soweto on Wednesday to pay his respects.
Zuma said he had travelled from his homestead in Nkandla to visit the family, after hearing the news of her passing on Monday. He said his entire family had been shocked when they heard the news, even reflecting that he did not know she had fallen ill.
"One of our pillars has fallen. One of our leaders has departed. She was a leader recognised not just by the ANC, but the country... I was shocked, because I was in the rural areas. We were sitting, when the news came that our mother is no more."
Zuma said Madikizela-Mandela had played a great role in mobilising the oppressed to fight against the apartheid system.
"She represented many of the mothers who had their husbands in prison; in exile – whose names are not known ... She represented that type of a citizen in our country. She also encouraged [sic] that you could not just sit and say, 'my husband is in exile'; you join in and fight."
He said Madikizela-Mandela was recognised the world over, not because she was married to another struggle hero, Nelson Mandela, but due to her own efforts to continue with the fight against white domination while he and other leaders were jailed on Robben Island.
"A very remarkable and noticeable contribution in many respects ... influencing the oppressed to fight for their freedom ... There are many who joined the struggle because they saw her fighting, with her husband in prison, not knowing when he will come out," said Zuma.
Zuma thanked President Cyril Ramaphosa for declaring an official funeral. As a national heroine, she deserved such an honour to show recognition, respect and dignity for her role as the nation's mother, he added.
"To us, it's a big loss. To us, there is a pain of losing a mother, of losing a comrade, of losing a leader who has seen it all. She has been detained, tortured, exiled ... but she stood"
During his short media briefing, Zuma was flanked by Madikizela-Mandela's grandson Zondwa.
The former president was largely criticised by Madikizela-Mandela during his term in office, as public confidence in him waned over a number of alleged scandals.
Zuma said he was going back to Nkandla following his visit. He is expected to appear in the Durban High Court on Friday for his first appearance on corruption and fraud charges.