Report on Sister Lieby Piliso's Funeral held on February 9th, 1997 at Mount Frere, in the Eastern Cape.
Sister Piliso, the youngest sister of Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, was a witness for twenty years..
Mr. Mandela's first wife - Sister Evelyn Mandela, has been a strong and a faithful witness of Jehovah for the past 40 years. Although she had been divorced that long by Mr. Mandela before his imprisonment, she has remained a highly respected lady by all in this country, including Mr. Mandela himself, who has written to her on several occasions expressing his deep appreciation for her integrity and gracious qualities as a godly woman.
There was a strong lobby within the African National Congress circles for Mr. Mandela to remarry her, but Sister Evelyn stood her ground that she did not consider remarriage and above all her former husband is not a worshipper of Jehovah like herself.
As anticipated, this funeral drew a lot of attention from the media and especially from the people of the Eastern Cape. It goes without say that the presence and appearance of President Mandela always draws large crowds. Even at this funeral some expected him to say something to the throngs that gathered to see him.
Sister Lieby Piliso was a faithful servant of Jehovah up to her death for over twenty years, although her husband was not a believer. She was one of 5 or 6 sisters forming their Isolated Group and her home is in one of the most remote villages in rural Transkei. It took more than one and a half hours to negotiate up the hills and ravines on a dirt road to reach the home of Sister Piliso.
A large number of witnesses travelled from Umtata - about 150 km away, while an even larger contingent of brothers came from Butterworth about 280 km away to give their moral support to this remote group of publishers.
The funeral was scheduled to start at 11.00 am.
The village appeared to be under a state of siege!
There were police and military armored vehicles guarding the entrance to the village.
There were police and army personnel, traffic officers. security officers and secret service personnel.
There were hundreds of school children.
There were thousands of local villagers.
There were seven Kings and Chiefs.
There were government ministers both in national and provincial parliaments.
As could be expected there also were clergymen.
About 5 minutes before 11:00 am a fly past of army helicopters signalled the arrival of president Mandela.
After the presidential helicopter landed, he and his entourage disembarked and were driven in the two 4 x 4 vehicles to his late sister's home to hear the discourse to be given by an elder of Jehovah's Witnesses.
There were approximately 3,000 in attendance. Seated on the podium were:
The President, Evelyn [his first divorced wife], Winnie [his second divorced wife], Graca Machel [his present wife], his children from the first two marriages, the Parliamentary Ministers, the Kings, Chiefs and their aides, the clergymen, the Piliso family members, could be seen to nod to scriptural points and several references from the Society's publications. Even the priests were listening attentively.
After 30 minutes the service was closed and the audience proceeded to the grave site.
While the casket was slowly lowered into the grave, the Witnesses sang song 58.
The following are some comments made to Bro. Douglas Maduma, the speaker, after the funeral:
"Thank you for such eloquent words of wisdom. I did not miss a word of what you said! I am pleased when young men speak such words of wisdom with eloquence and clarity "
Stella Sigcawu - Minister of Public Affairs:
"Thank you very much for the way you presented the sermon. Your message was clear, not hurting anybody. You have a different way of saying the great things about God. Thankyou."
Mrs. Graca Machel - (now Mrs Mandela):
"Thank-you for this service. It was such a dignified funeral. It is the first time for me to attend such a dignified funeral. In some funeral I have attended there is usually a lot of tension.
Before leaving, President Mandela spoke to Brother Yonga and other Witnesses. He said:
"Thank you very much for all you as witnesses have done. You have conducted beautifully the funeral of my sister."
A supreme court advocate, a personal aide to the president said:
"You have rekindled my interest in God I have come to appreciate that this life cannot be all there is. Please help me to learn more."
Henry van Staden.
Johannesburg, South Africa.