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Adieu Winnie Mandela

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Members of the ANC Women’s League place bunch of flowers to pay tribute to late South African anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, outside her Orlando Soweto house, on the outskirts of Johannesburg on April 3, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

“I will personally never regret the life we tried to share together. I part from her with no recriminations. I hope that you can all appreciate the pain that I have gone through.” – Nelson Mandela.

MADIBA took personal responsibility for divorcing Winnie in 1996. He said after that historic incident: “What I have done to my wife, is their only victory over me.”, although Nelson Mandela parted ways with Winnie Madizikela Mandela as a wife, they remained physically and emotionally attached to each other until his death in 2013.

There have been mistruths, sensationalism and overt disparaging of the personality of Winnie, following the incidents that heralded the annulment of that marriage.

Some of the barrage of censures against her were either sentimental or psychologically imaginative.

I read “Long Walk To Freedom,” Mandela’s autobiographical work, published by Little Brown and Co, he narrated his story with so much gusto and a consciousness that overwhelmed by his 27 years in prison and his sense of altruistic identity, that was blended with patriarchal acuity, which the unbelievably horrible apartheid regime did to his humanity, his nation and his family.

This memoir helped me understood the psychological and spiritual make up of that global icon. In that book I saw his motivations, his travails, his tragedies and his heroic achievements and eventual freedom.

Sound bites from this book interweaved Madiba’s unflinching love for Winnie, his devotion to his people and complexly composite story of his regrettable, but unavoidable sacrifices his family made during his incarceration:

“To be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of”.

On his love for Winnie he enthused “I cannot say for certain if there is anything like love at first sight, but I do know the moment I saw Nomzamo, I knew I wanted to have her as my wife”.

On politics and music, he averred: “politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics”, on choosing the path of reconciliation and peaceful negotiations he said “if I preached unity, I must act like a unifier, even at the risk of perhaps alienating some of my own colleagues”. Winnie was not spared by the apartheid regime during Madiba’s self-abnegation.

Some sections of the global news media in through their inexplicable narratives ostensibly distorted the Winnie Mandela persona. Caught in an imbalance contradiction of a freedom fighter, a loyal wife and later vilified as an “unfaithful spouse” and a murderer.

Some of her actions or inertia were based on her obsessive zeal to ensure that the black people had an egalitarian nation. The political and moral compass, echoed the banality of what she was allegedly accused of and obscured some of her irreplaceable achievements.

Madiba accused Winnie of having an affair with a younger colleague, Dali Mpofu, an accusation Winnie didn’t deny at their divorce hearing.

Some political pundits have given various perspectives to this sore point since Winnie Mandela passed away this week. Mandela in his own words said she only entered his bedroom when he was asleep.

He adduced reasons for their divorce, they didn’t speak in months during those dark moments. That he was “the loneliest man” since his release from prison. He divorced her two years after he was set free.

She might have been accused and tried during her ordeals by the lopsided media and deep seated racial segregators, who were safely ensconced in their blurred vision for decades. She was however irrevocably committed to her cause.

She was the conscience of her country and a trajectory between what is deserving of her people and what must be their inalienable rights. She left for humanity her own account in her 1985 memoir “Part of My Soul Went with Him”.

She told the story of her life in a 168 page autobiography, all intricately interwoven around: her childhood, her marriage, her forced separation from her husband for 27 years, the torturous journey to freedom, the Soweto uprising of 1976, her visits to Robben Island and Pollsmoor to see Madiba and the attainment of the freedom charter.

Winnie suffered as much as Mandela, she was constantly arrested and tortured. Despite the apartheid regime harassments of this woman, cowardly so they did to the consternation of the world, the misogynistic regime’s torment of a single mother and her daughters, Winnie remained strong and resilient in her defiance.

She narrated her ordeals thus in this memoir “My whole body was badly swollen, I was passing blood. 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.”

Winnie felt betrayed by Madiba, who hurriedly forgave their oppressors, she didn’t hide her disgusts, disapproval and angst, she railed against the joint Nobel Peace Prize Madiba was awarded in 1993 with his jailer Frederick de Klerk. 

The concept of a “rainbow nation” was fragile, unsure, fragmented and exposed the very abyss from where it came.

“How could we be expected to truly reconcile with and forgive the people who had murdered and destroyed our country?” She expressed her reservations and disgusts for Truth & Reconciliation Commission TRC, headed by the clergy Desmond Tutu for failing to heal the pains and injustices meted on the black South Africans during that inhuman regime.

She was born Nomzamo Winfreda Madikizela.

Just like her name Nomzamo which in Xhosa means “she who will go through trials” ,

She indeed went through some trying moments in her chequered history, like the period she faced criminal charges for the killing of Stompie Moeketsi, the 14-year-old, one the youngest figures in the anti-apartheid movement, who was accused of being a police informant.

Dr. Osahenye is a creative writer and lives in Lagos.


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Winnie Mandela
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