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Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikileza-Mandela; A Villain Or A Martyr

Winnie Madikizela – Mandela was a defiant leader of her people.  She has been called an advocate for the dispossessed and the marginalized and a voice for the voiceless. In the midst of repression, she was a voice of defiance and resistance. In the face of exploitation, she was a champion of justice and equality.

For a long time, this iconic woman has always been described as an anti- apartheid activist and ex-wife of Nelson Mandela.  her struggle for liberation has always been measured in relation to that of her ex – husband Nelson Mandela.  She was always under the shadow of Nelson Mandela.

Yet, she was more than that.  She was the public face of the ANC when it was banned, and the voice of Nelson Mandela during his incarceration for 27 years on Robbin Island. In her own right, she was the epitome of the struggle against the injustice and the inequality that existed in South Africa.  A symbol of hope and the most prominent voice of dissent in the fight against apartheid.

Mama Winnie, as she became affectionately known, was loved by her people and her struggle resonated with many of her followers, because she was there in the trenches in the deepest darkest times of the struggle against apartheid.  She stood defiantly side by side with her people in the face of hardships and fought the brutality of the apartheid government. She could empathize with the pain because she lived it.  She lived for her people, was arrested, ostracized, put in solitary confinement and because of her continued fight for the liberation of her people, she was banished to the dusty Afrikaner dominated town of Brandfort in the Free State with her youngest daughter Zinzi Mandela.

Mama Winnie’s life Brandfort was lonely and isolated, the people spoke mainly Sotho, Tswana or Afrikaans and hardly any Xhosa.  She took a confrontational attitude and would spend hours in the White shops empowering the shop-keepers with political ideologies in defiance of banishment order.

Despite the life of sacrifice and the vital role in shaping the future and the politics of South Africa, post-apartheid 1994, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was viewed by a generation of ANC leaders as a charlatan, an attention seeker and a populist, some even questioned her ability to lead.  This was because she started questioning and criticizing some of the works of the ANC.  She became a constant reminder that liberation remains incomplete without economic freedom, her utterances were a thorn in the ANC’s side and a reminder of what the political party she stood for, no longer wanted to portray.  She was ostracized and called a political pariah.  In fact, earlier allegations about the kidnapping and murder of Stompie Seipei, which led the United Democratic Front (UDF) an anti-apartheid body that incorporated many anti-apartheid organisations, cutting all ties with her severely dented her political image and left her in a political abyss.

The life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is a life of sacrifice.  She sacrificed her life for a husband who was not there and she had to raise her children on her own. She sacrificed her life for the liberation of her people but in the end, when liberation came, she was left all alone and emotionally shattered.  She was persecuted and demonized because the society and movement she served and loved with all her heart forgot that she was a woman, she was a human being who could not have not have possibly toed an angelic path for the rest of her life.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mother of the Nation.  An enigma.   A Villian or A Martyr? You decide.