JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has paid tribute to the long-serving deputy secretary-general of his ruling African National Congress party Jessie Duarte, who died Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
Duarte, 68, was elected to the leading position in the ANC in 2012 and had been serving until she went on medical leave in November last year.
“Although our beloved comrade Jessie has been gravely ill for several months, it is difficult to comprehend that someone with such vitality and such spirit has departed this earth," Ramaphosa told mourners Sunday.
“Comrade Jessie was a faithful, dedicated and fiercely loyal leader of the African National Congress,” said Ramaphosa.
He praised her for fighting for women’s rights during and after South Africa's struggle against white minority rule and the system of racial oppression known as apartheid which ended in 1994.
“Jessie was relentless in advancing the position of women in all areas of public and private life," said Ramaphosa.
“She confronted the patriarchal attitudes and practices that sought to diminish the role and contribution of women in Parliament, in government and across society,” he said.
Some of the influential roles Duarte played include being a spokeswoman for the ANC and a personal assistant to Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison in 1990.
She was a leading member of the ANC Women’s League and also served as South Africa’s ambassador to Mozambique.
Duarte, a member of the ANC’s national executive committee for more than 25 years, attracted support from rival factions within party, which led many to describe her as a unifier.
She has often faced criticism for her spirited public defense of the ANC, despite growing evidence that many of its officials are corrupt and ineffective. A recent judicial investigation into graft allegations during the rule of former President Jacob Zuma from 2009 to 2018 found substantial wrongdoing on the part of the ANC party and some of its top officials.
In recent years Duarte has also been criticized for her attitude toward the media as she often publicly criticized journalists that she viewed as anti-ANC.
Some opposition political parties have praised Duarte for her role in the struggle against apartheid and sent messages of condolences to her family and the ANC.
An official funeral according to Islamic rites was held for Duarte at the Westpark Cemetery in Johannesburg where she was buried on Sunday. An official memorial service will be held later this week.