My Tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela Mandela REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


I’ve seen some nasty stuff written about WINNIE MANDELA since she died, mostly by armchair critics, facebook warriors, academic wankers and intellectual pygmies – you know the ones, happy to criticise the failings of others but too gutless to do anything themselves.

So let me just quietly remind you all of the failings of a few others: Hongi Hika made the mistake of not using the power of the musket to build a nation; Nelson Mandela admitted on many occasions that he made mistakes, many of which he would have dearly loved to take back; Winston Churchill was responsible for policies that led to the deaths of millions of civilians; and Jesus Christ got himself so offside with the Pharisees that they had the poor bugger crucified, and he was the son of God for heaven’s sake!!

But they will be forever remembered for changing their world, and in her own way, so too should Winnie Mandela.

Winnie was no angel.

She was the leader of the Mandela Football Club, a bunch of brutal “athletes” who were widely accused of being her private army, and who were also held responsible for the death of a young black boy falsely accused of being an apartheid spy. And she was known to support the “necklacing” of suspected traitors, putting a tyre around their necks, dousing them with petrol and burning them alive.

And yet for all the hype and hysteria, Winnie Mandela was only ever convicted of fraud and accessory to kidnapping,

But Winnie Mandela was also a young mother who raised two baby girls when her husband, Nelson Mandela, was sentenced to life in the notorious Robben Island prison.

Winnie campaigned tirelessly for his release, and in the absence of her husband and the other leaders of the African National Congress, who were either killed, in jail or in exile, Winnie Mandela became the face of the anti-apartheid movement.

The South African authorities may have silenced her husband by imprisoning him, but Winnie’s defiance in the face of arrests, banning orders and daily police harassment ensured that the world never forgot the Mandela name or cause.

Winnie Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist in her own right, who once served a term of 491 days in solitary confinement for her commitment to the cause (how many of us could do that?)

She was a freedom fighter; a revolutionary who served on the frontlines of the anti-apartheid struggle – not an armchair activist who waged a revolution on Twitter or Facebook.

In fact, the growing strength of her leadership led to the apartheid regime banishing her to the Orange Free State, then a bastion of white supremacy. And even though she wasn’t allowed visitors, every day she made calls to the outside world to remind us of the brutality of apartheid.

During the amnesty for apartheid-era officials, De Klerk’s own secret service publicly confessed to manufacturing lies to discredit Winnie Mandela, such was her power and command of her people.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela wasn’t God. She wasn’t perfect. She was flawed. Like Hongi Hika. Like Nelson Mandela. Like Winston Churchill. Like Jesus Christ. Like me. Like you …

But she deserves to be remembered for the good things that she achieved.

I have read many comments since her death. Here some that gave Winnie Mandela the farewell she deserved:

Charlene Smith: “Winnie is the Conscience of a Nation that has already forgotten the tragedy of apartheid history; even in her death, people do not realize how she suffered, how damaged she became and how it hurt her and those who cared for her most. South Africa today has one of the worst crime rates in the world, it has millions of damaged people – they are apartheid’s legacy. It is in remembering and healing a wounded people that we honor the legacy of Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Sleep with the angels Nomzamo.”

Sisonke Msimang“You were strong when we couldn’t be. You were a rage that sometimes burned too brightly and you showed us how to be brave and be our fearsome best. Lion. Warrior. Mother. Mkhonto. #WinnieMandela

Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow): Thank you for your brilliant wisdom, your fierce defiance and your stylish beauty. You loved our people unconditionally and sacrificed so much for our freedom. As a nation, I hope we will stand tall and proud, and as uncompromising as you were in the defence and protection of our rights. As one of our brightest stars, continue to be the lioness that protects your children and your grandchildren. Warm their hearts so that while your transition may shake them, it does not break their spirit. Your legacy is everlasting. Take a well-deserved rest in peace, my BIG sister. Love and Respect Always, Your little sister, Graça

E te whaea, haere, haere, haere atu ra

Hone Harawira