As the world prepares to lay South Africa's veteran anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to rest, the debate that followed her life has reared its head again. Who is Winnie and how should we remember her?
The more traditional sections of society, want her remembered as an exemplary leader, a freedom fighter; a revolutionary who dedicated her life to fighting for justice. Others, particularly those who are still in the trenches fighting the old battles in favour of white supremacy, want to continue to castigate her as ‘a violent and deeply flawed individual.’
And as writer Milton Nkosi rightfully explained, in the recent BBC article `Winnie Mandela - the young mother who refused to be broken,’ to truly understand the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela one needs “to go back in time and trace the steps of humiliation she suffered under the racist system of apartheid.”
To me, Winnie Mandela is an iconic figure of the apartheid movement, a symbol of resilience and courage. A woman who defied all efforts in the last three decades of her life, to erase or diminish her role in the apartheid movement, a hero.
Winnie is very key to the women’s movement in Africa, because she is the only globally recognized woman in the anti-apartheid movement and anti-colonial movement. In this role, she highlights the gender-bias in the emancipatory narrative of Africa and her humongous achievement is rising above it.
Now, let us take a look at the two issues the anti-Winnie group have used against her. She was accused of infidelity, and divorced Nelson Mandela two years after he got out of jail. She was denied half of her estranged husband’s $5 million in assets, and the judge made her pay court costs.
Winnie and Nelson were married for a total of 38 years, although for almost three decades of that time they were separated due to Mr. Mandela's long imprisonment. It was Mrs Madikizela-Mandela who took his baton after he was jailed for life, becoming an international symbol of resistance to apartheid. She too was jailed for her role in the fight for justice and equality. The decades of separation took its toll on the marriage upon Mr. Mandela’s release. In his testified in the divorce hearing that Winnie only entered his bedroom when he was asleep. “They had barely spoken in months. And since his release from prison, he had been “the loneliest man.”
Let us pause to review the double standard regarding erasing Winne’s role in the anti-apartheid movement for alleged cheating. One of the ways discrimination plays out is through the application of double standards. How many anti-colonial, anti-apartheid and freedom fighters are being assessed in terms of their roles based on whether they cheated on their wives, and please let us not even go as far as answering this question if the wives were jailed for almost three decades.
Nelson came out of jail perhaps expecting his wife to play a role, vis a vis companionship, but Winnie was not churning butter while he was in jail. ‘His wife faced her own struggles as she fought a racist political system. Over the ensuing years, Madikizela-Mandela would be arrested, harassed and “banned” — forbidden from most social contact, Hanes wrote. Beginning in 1969, she spent 18 months in solitary confinement. She was interrogated unceasingly and forced to sit upright for so long that she blacked out.’ “My whole body was badly swollen, I was passing blood,” she wrote in her memoir of her imprisonment. “The whole experience is so terrible, because I had left little children at home in bed and I had no idea what had happened to them.”
I do indeed wish the marriage had survived. The definition of a power couple was epitomized for me when Winnie and Nelson visited Nigeria, I was one amongst the crowd who struggled to get a glimpse, and what a phenomenal power couple they were. `Their marriage had endured his incarceration and hers. It had weathered her hard-won ascendance in the movement to end systematized racism in Africa’s southernmost country and his inability to be a physical presence in his family’s life. In the end, it was a marriage that survived prison, but not freedom.’
I still cannot fathom how and why Nelson Mandela, who epitomized selflessness, forgiveness and reconciliation could not rise above the allegation of infidelity. Late Nelson Mandela is celebrated worldwide today for epitomizing forgiveness. He demonstrated this by his public statements of forgiveness to white South Africans for half a century of violent apartheid and 27 years imprisonment. He is recognized for being so magnanimous to all, wo why not for Winnie for infidelity?
Over 60 years, 27 of those years without her husband, thrust in the public eye as leader of the anti-apartheid movement at a very violent time, jailed for many years, and the world remains obsessed with alleged infidelity. Let us not even talk about the injustice of 38 years of marriage, 27 of which she raised the children on her own while leading the anti-apartheid movement, and yet she was awarded nothing from her husband’s $5 million asset.
Winnie was also accused of backing the practice of "necklacing" - putting burning tyres around suspected informants' necks. These events, which are part of the anti-apartheid narrative are tragic. She was also found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to six years' imprisonment for her involvement in the death of 14-year-old township militant Stompie Seipei. She always denied the allegation, and the sentence was reduced to a fine.
In the context of the violence of apartheid surely we must understand that Winnie was being discredited. Please how many speeches did Winnie give and if she used a phrase in anger in the context of the brutality of apartheid should that eclipse her role?
No one could possibly be on the frontline as leader of a movement like the anti-apartheid movement without being smeared with some controversy especially when there is a white media and white law enforcement team out to discredit you. All anti-apartheid and anti-colonialism leaders were tainted with one controversy or the other. Nelson has perhaps the fewest.
We cannot and should not assess Winnie’s role the same as Nelson. Nelson Mandela could do no wrong because he could do very little, he was in jail, this is not to diminish the pain of being incarcerated for 27 years and the impact of his refusal to compromise to be released, these were powerful, but Nelson Mandala’s strategy of resistance by inaction, protected him from being vulnerable or associated to wrong doings. And even then the apartheid movement got away with terming him a terrorist for many years, to discredit his role in the anti-apartheid movement.
As recent as 2013, UK’s former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit was still defending Margaret Thatcher's government for ignoring sanctions against apartheid-era South Africa. He made this comment a day after South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95 in Johannesburg.
Nelson faced his own controversies. While critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist, those on the radical left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid's supporters. But these did not eclipse his role in ending apartheid. He gained international acclaim for his activism and received more than 250 honours—including the Nobel Peace Prize—and became the subject of a cult of personality. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, and described as the "Father of the Nation".
Controversies notwithstanding, Nelson Mandela today is recognized for his role and is in his rightful place in South Africa and around the world, Winnie Mandela deserves the same. Let us not be dissuaded, our focus now should be clear and simple: let us put Winnie in her rightfully earned place in South Africa, Africa, the world and the women’s movement. We commend ongoing efforts to honor female freedom fighters in South Africa, ensuring that Winnie gets her due place in history, is one sure way of achieving this.
Our celebration and recognition of Winnie’s role in the anti-apartheid movement could perhaps begin to open our eyes to how we can be complicit in systems and processes that derecognizes African women in the anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid movement. There were many black female celebrities from around the world who visited Nelson Mandela, images of them laying their heads on his shoulders in solidarity has been on magazines and all over the internet for decades, I wonder if they ever connected with Winnie or celebrated her?
Winnie fought till the end, and sadly her biggest battle came after the end of apartheid, mostly against misogyny and post-apartheid white resentment, she was an easier target than Nelson. Today the battle continues, for justice sake, let us make sure she gets her rightful place as an icon in the anti-apartheid movement. And let us continue to fight against any ideology, attitude, policies, practice, talks and thoughts that still position one race or gender superior to the other.
Amandla! Winnie, Ngwaethu
 Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s marriage survived three decades of prison — but not freedom
Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s marriage survived three decades of prison — but not freedom
 Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s marriage survived three decades of prison — but not freedom
Ahead of the humanitarian pledging conference in Geneva, Switzerland tomorrow on 3 April, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expresses his deep gratitude for the $930 million provided on Tuesday by two donor countries, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirate to the Yemen Humanitarian Fund.
“These funds cover almost one-third of the $2.96 billion required to implement the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, which will enable the United Nations and its partners to help alleviate the suffering of millions of vulnerable people across Yemen,” says statement issued by Mr. Guterres’ office, following the signing of the memorandum on the voluntary contributions.
More than 22 million people in Yemen require humanitarian aid or protection assistance, including 2 million who are internally displaced due to the ongoing conflict between the Government and rebel forces.
“I would like to take this occasion to appeal to all the other donors who will be meeting in Geneva next week (At the humanitarian pledging conference) to follow the same generosity” shown by the two countries, the UN chief told reporters the UN’s New York Headquarters, after meeting with Prince Mohamad Bin Salman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince.
The UN, through its envoy, has been engaged in helping Yemenis to find a peaceful solution. UN agencies and partners are also on the ground to deliver life-saving aid.