Naomi Campbell, Idris Elba, Lord Peter Hain, Terry Phetho, Khanyi Dhlomo, Maxine Waters … there is a reason all these international stars are falling over themselves to pay tribute to fallen struggle heroine Winnie Mandela. She was no ordinary soul, no ordinary leader. Only in our racially toxic country did social media trolls choose to focus on the low points of her life. And those she did have, quite a few, but those for whom she fought, those alongside whom she fought, know that her low points are because she was human.
They choose to focus on that stunningly beautiful 23-year-old who became South Africa’s first black social worker. Those who love her choose to focus on a woman who could have chosen the quiet life of a political ‘widow’, who could have ground it out waiting for the return of a world-famous husband from Robben Island. She could have chosen to focus on raising Zindzi Mandela and her siblings, without any spotlight on her. But a life of struggle chose her. And the celebrities paying tribute to her are acknowledging her conscious choice to fight for humanity’s common freedom.
The Winnie Mandela South Africans and the world came to know picked up from where Nelson Mandela left off when he went away for 27 years. She sacrificed a comfortable life for her children and herself to get woken up in the middle of the night by security police simply because they could. She became a moving target of the apartheid government that never missed an opportunity to try to break her down. Those paying tribute to her are paying homage to that indefatigable spirit that was Winnie Mandela. Myths and urban legends abound about how she would harbour freedom fighters with nowhere to go and stand up to the apartheid police’s foot soldiers when they came knocking. She was fearless.
So when they came for her, when it was her turn to leave her children alone a few hours before dawn on a cold winter’s night in May 1969, her spirit was found undiminished and unafraid. And today, all those who were inspired by her say thank you to her for her unconquerable spirit. The people of Soweto know and expected Winnie to be by their side the minute tragedy (and the security police) struck.
It is now common knowledge that she was never given the recognition due to her while she was still alive. Her erstwhile comrades chose to magnify her shortcomings, just like those who hated her are doing now. As is typical with South Africa’s race divide, some people have chosen to focus on those low points. Even though people like Paul Verryn have publicly forgiven Winnie for those transgressions that affected them, some have chosen to focus on it because it suits their agendas.
Well, the people who were the most affected by her generous spirit have chosen to remember her as this extraordinary human being who could have chosen to shun their struggles.
They have chosen her to be The Mother of Nation. They knew her as a fearless mother who was not afraid. A mother who could have chosen to be known a “Nelson Mandela’s wife or ex-wife”. But she chose to be Winnie. No one’s ex-wife. A struggle icon in her own right.
Those who loved her know she carried on despite everything; and because she brought up her children with Mandela on her own for 27 years she was bound to make mistakes.
For them, Mandela became a “saint” because she made all the mistakes he couldn’t because he was in jail. Nelson Mandela was because Winnie was. Rest In Power Winnie Mandela.