He used to drive Winnie Madikizela-Mandela from Brandfort to the airport in Bloemfontein for the many trips she used to take to visit her husband, former president Nelson Mandela, on Robben Island. And he recalls taking many risks.
Matthews Seate used to run errands – which included cashing cheques – for Madikizela-Mandela during the time she was banished to Brandfort in 1977.
Seate, who was born in Orlando East, used to live 10 houses away from Madikizela-Mandela.
“This home in Brandfort belonged to my [maternal grandmother]. While growing up, we used to come and visit for a few days during the holidays.”
Seate said growing up in Brandfort was difficult.
“During those days, if you came to visit, you needed permission from the police and they wanted to know how long you’d be in the area. You needed a permit to visit your family.”
Permanent move to Brandfort
He could not recall when he moved to Brandfort, but said it was after his mother had died.
“I had a house in Katlehong. I used to come to Brandfort every month to take my mother to the hospital in Bloemfontein for treatments.”
His mother later died and this forced him to move to Brandfort permanently.
“When Mama Winnie arrived here, I did not own a house and I had not gotten married yet. I was living in Orlando East. I knew her from there.”
Seate and Madikizela-Mandela only became close once they reunited in Brandfort.
“When I found Mama and [her daughter] Zindzi here, we were happy to see one another again.”
He said he used to frequent Madikizela-Mandela’s Brandfort home.
Apartheid police were stationed on a tower overlooking the Brandfort community. This is where they used to monitor people entering and leaving Madikizela-Mandela’s home.
“I used to wake up most mornings and go to the house. I only left when I was going home to sleep. She would send me to run errands. When we used to have the Barclays Bank, she used to send me to the bank to cash out cheques that had been seen sent from donors from overseas.”
He would go wherever Madikizela-Mandela sent him.
“I considered myself part of the family because, even though I did not get to meet Tata Mandela, I used to take Mama to the Bloemfontein airport when she [travelled] to see Tata in Robben Island. We used to take her and fetch her and return her to Brandfort.
“It was either myself, Oupa, who was Zindzi’s boyfriend or another man from Lesotho called MK. We would alternate taking her to the airport.”
Seate said he remembered Madikizela-Mandela as a people’s person and someone who liked helping those who were less fortunate.
“It was very difficult in those days because we could not leave Brandfort because we were always under surveillance. The police would always watch us from the tower. They knew when we went to the toilet. They knew everything.”
He said Madikizela-Mandela was feared by the apartheid police but that the people loved her.
“No one was allowed to visit her. I used to force my way to the house and they tried so many ways to arrest me but they could not get information out of me.”
Seate was on many occasions questioned by the police on why he was visiting Madikizela-Mandela and what they were talking about.
Seate recalled Madikizela-Mandela’s home as a warm and cosy environment. He said, when he looked at the state in which it was today, it hurt him.
“Every time I walk past the house, I feel pain because that is a house that should have been renovated and turned into a museum. Instead, the house has turned into a house where people drink [and] have sex and people use it for whatever they want. Vagrants are using it. Whoever wants to stay there stays there.”
Seate said the community had been told that the house would be turned into a museum.
“I thought, because I was one of the people that spent time with Mama, that when opportunities arose, we would get employed. But nothing happened.”
He said he wished the Free State government would fulfil its promise.
“They need to make it beautiful again. It must be a reminder to the community that Mama used to live there and she contributed toward making a positive change in Brandfort.”
Seate said he was upset when he heard the news that Madikizela-Mandela had died on April 2 in Johannesburg.
“She leaves at a time when I thought that we needed to meet with her and Zindzi to tell them my circumstances here with the hope of getting assistance from them.
“I applied for an RDP [house] and they told me to go to Johannesburg. I am also unable to get a job because the same apartheid police are still here, so life is tough.”
Seate said he would have loved to attend Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral on Saturday but he wasn’t able to.
“I would love to with all my heart but I am not sure how I am going to get there.”
If the government provided transport, he would, he said.
“People from Brandfort would love to go and say goodbye to Mama Winnie.”
He said he would remember Madikizela-Mandela as a woman who “was full of love”.
“She did not discriminate, she was empathetic and did not want to see people going hungry.
“I did not work during those days but I was clothed and fed because of her.”
– FOLLOW News24 on Twitter