"Wilton Mkwayi was a people's hero in the truest sense of that phrase," he added. He was always one of the leaders of the masses, but he never looked for a high- profile visibility on his own within the liberation movement.
Mandela urged the mourners to constantly return to the memory and the example of such people as Mkwayi. "They are the true heroes and heroines of our struggle," he added.
Mandela said Mkwayi would be remembered for his courage and bravery, adding he had no fear in him. "Even a physical injury could not deter him from his commitment and the cause he had chosen to take."
He would be remembered for his bravery and courage as a volunteer-in-chief in the Port Elizabeth's defiance campaign. He was one of the first group of uMkhonto weSizwe cadres to leave for military training abroad, as acting leader of MK, when its leadership ranks were being depleted by arrests and banning orders.
His greatness was that he never wanted to be recognised or singled out from the people, said Mandela, adding that Mkwayi had been decorated with Isithwalandwe, the highest honour that the ANC bestows on its outstanding members."
For we know Isithwalandwe-Seaparankoe Wilton Mkwayi remains among us. We can see in our mind's eye that towering figure who led from the front, that resolute leader who, to the very end, determined that the people's spear shall never touch the ground. We can clearly hear that voice that gave guidance; and we can assert without fear of contradiction - now or in the future - that, dear Wilton, your word shall always remain our command!
This we can declare: that from where Tat'uMkwayi's body shall permanently rest, a new journey begins for us to seek with even greater vigour the truth that he pursed all his life - that on a day not too far away, all South Africans shall stand tall, truly free from the bondage of poverty, illiteracy, joblessness and hunger.
And therefore I dare say: we are here to rejoice. We are here to celebrate the joys of a life whose pursuits made it possible for us to create the conditions in which this dream is steadily becoming a reality.
Days before he was sent to the gallows, Vuyisile Mini wrote the following words:
"They then asked me about Wilton Mkwayi. They said I saw Mkwayi in January 1963. I said, 'Yes'. They asked me if I was prepared to give evidence against Mkwayi whom they had now arrested. I said, 'No, I was not'. They said there was a good chance for them to save me from the gallows if I was prepared to assist them. I refused".
Through these words, Mini brought to life the bond of comradeship and trust that was and should remain the hallmark of true revolutionaries. In these words, Mini was leaving us a practical example of the spirit of mutual dependence that the cause of revolutionary change demands.
But in a profoundly personal way, Vuyisile Mini was also telling us about Wilton Mkwayi: that a commander had stoically taken the reins to lead the people's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, when leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu had been arrested. And under no circumstances, even in the face of death, were they going to betray him!
And this is the true story of Wilton Mkwayi.
Born of a poor family, Tat'uWilton was condemned by the system to become what the architects of apartheid had decreed for millions of his fellow human beings: hewers of wood and drawers of water. The land in which his family lived was forcibly taken away - and this explained to young Wilton why his father became a member of the African National Congress, and in turn advised him too, when he came of age, to join.
He laboured in a dynamite factory, in the harbours, in the metal industry and elsewhere - like all his peers, earning poverty wages. But he knew that this condition demanded nothing else but organised and disciplined resistance. He became a trade unionist and led many campaigns for the improvement of the conditions of workers.
Wilton Mkwayi was more than just a worker and a trade unionist. A member of the ANC, he was thrust into leadership on account of his qualities as an organiser and a campaigner who could look death in the eye and not flinch. He was the Volunteer-in-Chief for the Eastern Cape in the Defiance Campaign of 1952.
Throughout his political life, he made sure that he stayed close to the people, because he knew that they were his leaders; they had that indomitable capacity to cast away the chains of slavery.
When duty called, he was there where the brave of the land were to be found. The political trials of apartheid were to him the towering platform from which the people's cause could be propagated; the prison cell the university in which he could hone his skills to continue the cause of freedom.
When fortune struck in the strange ways of the vagaries of fate, twice - during the Treason Trial and during the arrest of the MK High Command at Rivonia - and he was able to escape, he soldiered on, knowing that those who were interned expected nothing less of him; that those who suffered under the jackboot of apartheid saw in him a leader who would not cower, no matter how arduous the journey.
Even in the face of provocation, violence against the people, and the threat of death after his release from prison when his home was attacked, he knew how to respond to the desperation of those whose time had run out. A leader in times of war, he was a determined peacemaker when the moment for new forms of struggle arrived.
And so we bow our heads today in honour of an organiser, a trade unionist, a military commander, a negotiator, a parliamentarian and a community leader.
We rejoice in the memory of a mentor, an exemplar and a servant of the people par excellence.
Tat'uMkwayi's memory shall remain etched in the annals of our history, the history of his people. He entered the valley of the shadow of death with them; and with them he had started to enjoy the first harvest of his labours and their labours.
What the stillness of a body resting forever tells us is that there is a future to be built and a human condition to be improved. The struggle continues.
What Uncle Bribri commands today is that the sun has risen and we should strive on to change our lives for the better; to seize the opportunities of freedom; and to redeem a continent whose past of humiliation is an injunction to build a better future. Africa's time has come.
What Tat'uMkwayi says to us today, is that death is but a reaffirmation of life: for all South Africans to carry the spear of reconstruction and development, and the shield of nation-building and reconciliation in pursuit of a better life for all.
And in deference to all that you did for us, Tat'uMkwayi, in honour of a life truly dedicated to the people, we pledge that your words of wisdom, your force of example, and your humility as a servant of the people, shall forever remain the lodestar that guides our march to a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
Lala ngoxolo Isithwalandwe!
Robala ka kgotso Seaparankoe!
Victory is certain!