“I no longer have the emotion of fear, there is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known “. These are the words of Winifred “Winnie” Nomzamo Mandela of a woman, a mother, a revolutionary, a pioneer, apartheids Achilles hill and the Mother of our Nation who on this Easter Monday, left us for good.
I have chosen to call her this one-time Winnie Madikizela-Mandela since in my assessment she remains Winnie Mandela, for she gave meaning to that surname when nobody could, keeping it alive. She defined the scope and everlasting stature of that now common surname. I am not disowning a Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela from such in a myopic contestation context but to give a perspective informed by history. We would learn uMama Winnie is no more, and then a sadness thrust itself upon the totality of my being if you must know a sadness more prominent than December 5, 2013, when Madiba passed on.
If I know of a Nelson Mandela it is because my late father, shared with me as a youngster how he and others were arrested, yet if I in my youth and politically forming years came to understand that surname, it is because there was a Winnie Mandela, who was serving her people, a Winnie Mandela who was arrested, a Winnie Mandela who was banished to Brandfort in the Free State. A Winnie Mandela who became the object of apartheid abuse and vilification. A Winnie Mandela who was manhandled by six-foot-tall Boers who after this would go and show affection to their wives and daughters nieces and aunts and mothers.
If I in the 80’s as a youth knew of that surname it’s because of the unselfish and daring nature of a Winnie Mandela, who defied apartheid bosses and crisscrossed the expanse of SA travelling long distances to address crowds amidst and invasive apartheid machinery operative affording her no rest.
It was a Winnie Mandela more than a celebrated Desmond Tutu, that became the face of our liberation struggle always willing to defend the cause of the downtrodden, those who are abused be it a woman in Umlazi who lost her husband to a mysterious murder or the community of a Paballelo and Blikkiesdorp in Upington. It is Winnie Mandela who fed the poor and defended the cause of justice notwithstanding her own personal pain.
Her association with the youth throughout cannot be overstated. When Malema’s hearing in the ANC took place, it was Winnie Mandela who testifies on his behalf, the perpetual role and purpose she fulfils. It gave me time to consider perhaps in my understanding the most misunderstood yet prominent woman of South African politics and society.
She remains the only true “Mother of the Nation” and remains fully worthy of such if our liberation struggle and political history is the yardstick for assessment. May I dare to say, many used her and her name when it worked for them in political aspiration, yet she remains larger than all who used her and ditched her later on.
Long before some liberation heroes were released from prison, some returned from exile, and others from a long vacation in Europe and the USA, Winnie Mandela with her consistent actions served the liberation struggle and us who remained behind, with distinction as the paragon of unselfishness.
We have seen how what is called the “inziles” get less credit, in a narrative that celebrates prison and exile as the maximum symbols for struggle participation and contribution, for having kept the fires of freedom alive. The prisoners were locked up but safe eating every day three meals regardless to what that meal may have been, the exiles were scattered in camps across Africa and some in luxury far from the anguish of pain, abuse and mayhem that the masses suffered through the distinct epochs of a liberation history. If the “inziles” have any identity it was in no person better understood or exemplified but in Winnie Mandela.
Throughout the known and less known history of liberation struggle if such can be talked about from essentially the mid 50’s and the name of ‘Nelson’ Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela came to be associated with our liberation struggle the name of Winnie Nomzamo Mandela, from Bizana too became associated with such freedom struggle by both default and design. By-default for she was the legal wife of the Mandela who was not at that time any icon but a member of the emerging leadership manifest in youth revolt in ANC context. By design for she from the onset was her own person who had her own mind, heart and role to fulfil as a thinking young woman, as an activist constituting a part of those who suffered a three-layered discrimination of apartheid seen through black oppression, Bantu oppression and gender oppression.
As the apartheid machinery began to clamp down on an African leadership by arresting and charging our leaders she suffered like many who lost her husband to the ugliness of the demonic apartheid incarceration.
By the time Rolihlahla Mandela appears in 1963 along with others in Apartheid’s courtrooms she had long lost the o+pportunity of having a love manifested in a present husband, lover and father of her two girls. As a consequence of such arrests of a radical Mandela the “black pimpernel” the struggle shifted from African men to African women, interesting enough almost a decade earlier the Defiance Campaign originally a PAC organised event was led by four women, some of us would see a spiritual significance of a divine intervention to have four women racially classified as African (Lillian Ngoyi), Coloured (Sophie Williams), Indian (Rahima Moosa) and White (Helen Joseph) and representing a divided SA to lead this campaign.
Winnie Mandela stands and must be understood in the shoes and on the shoulders of this Defiance Campaign mass action leadership. For these women were thrust into such leadership less by their personal choice or preference but by the demand of the hour. Theirs was not an optional choice of careers in politics but a vacuum that needed to be filled.
It is the same Winnie who would confront Apartheid’s police when they arrested the youth, she would shout at them, not at all intimidated by their powers. She long lost her fear of what apartheid offered as their best in torture and abuse.
It was a Winnie Mandela who stood with the former leaders of ANCYL we remember how she defended Peter Mokaba. Mamma Winnie no different back then chose to defend the cause of the youth, she compelled by her motherly instincts and heart for the underdog always proved willing to go the extra mile in defence of the youth. When Mokaba landed in hot water for singing “kill the boer, the farmer” and many read him the riot act it was the same Winnie Mandela who came to his rescue advocating a relent and an appreciation for the radical context of being youth.
I shall never forget when she served as a member of parliament and had been away for an elongated period, Peter Mokaba and I picked her up from her Cape Town home and took her to Parliament. To hear the thunderous applause with which she was received remains a moment forever etched in my memory. I had until then never met Winnie Mandela, yet upon her meeting me she afforded me the same motherly love, hug, kiss and attention as she gave to a Peter Mokaba, needless to say, it was a complete honour to spend the time with her. I say that to say Winnie Mandela cannot be disassociated or separated from the youth regardless of what epoch such youth manifests.
Even the most painful and controversial part of her life shown in what came to be defined by the less tasteful actions of what was known as the Mandela Football club and the unfortunate death of a Stompie Sepei attests in the greater scheme of things to her role as one who loved the youth unreservedly less conditionally. She has always been closely associated with youth affairs.
In regards the Seipei murder we know now that Jerry Richardson confessed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he was promised R30000.00 for killing Seipei told Henk Heslinger, a white police officer brought to discredited Madikizela Mandela that the apartheid state still owed him money for the murder. Heslinger later in 1994 assessed the records and found Richardson’s claim to be true. He took it upon himself to get the money to settle the debt. The same money Richardson asked to be converted into a diamond solitaire for the woman he was in love with. We not sure why the media to date has never engaged this confession of Richardson at the TRC.
It’s the same Winnie who defended the likes of Tony Yengeni when he firstly was judged like her as a populist and later when he landed in trouble and ultimately jail. It is Winnie Mandela who is called upon to speak to the SA youth to calm them and to remind them of the history of youth revolt. It is Winnie Mandela who runs to the rescue of a Caster Semenya when this young girl and gold medal Olympic middle-distance runner is made a political football in a storm of controversial abuse.
It was Winnie Mandela who was called to speak on behalf of Malema during his ANC hearing. She could not have been misunderstood as being anti-establishment nor was it a sign of her seeking to do any grandstanding but necessarily her doing what she has always done throughout our liberation struggle. It was Mamma Winnie embraced Malema when he was cutting a lonely figure at the ANC NGC held in September 2010. She lends a shoulder to cry on, it was Mama Winnie who dared to stand and hug him and share thoughts of encouragement, regardless of the political consequences for herself.
One gets the sense she remained a youth at heart irrespective of time, epoch, person or cause. This social worker understood sociology made manifest in groups and group identity she understands that her calling was always to be the social worker, in which her personal life suffers whilst she is pregnant helping others to straighten out their lives. The Youth of Soweto back then knew whose door to knock on and who to call in the middle of the night. For unlike others who opted to exchange sprawling Soweto for Dainfern she opted to stay amongst her people.
If you ask me was she, always right? Did she always make the right choices? The answer is definitely no, but that by itself is not unique to her and her alone but the agony of all of us who often easily lift a proverbial stone to cast. Yes, Winnie Mandela made a ton of mistakes, yes, she proved less discerning at crucial times, yes, she was angry at some time with those who sought to use her to get elected and once they are elected abandoned her even rejected her. It is clear that you cannot separate Winnie Mandela from youth issues, you could not do it in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s into the 21st century and now even the second decade of the 21st century.
She will go down as the most misunderstood struggle hero of South African politics only because some proved less earnest to read the long history of youth participation and support exemplified in the life and times of Winnie Mandela.
Perhaps Winnie Mandela lived her youth through others for she was denied like so many of us who were forced at a young age to grow up and wave such very youthfulness manifested in a carefree-ness and less responsibility farewell. This the right of every young person before life begins to happen and we become beset by challenges, responsibilities, economic realities demands and roles that confirmed such youthful era is over.
You then understand her in her own words, I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”
Halala Winnie Mandela mother of the nation uncontested we knew no other, we will not have anyone else.