Dida Halake’s London Letter: RiP Queen Mother of Azania

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Fact: Winnie was the first registered black Social Worker in the country, male or female.


Fact: being a Social Worker opened Winnie’s eyes to the injustices and inequalities in her country and radicalised her views.


Fact: armed with her Diploma in Social Work and a Batchelor of Arts degree from the “up-market” Wits University, Winnie has spent all her working life fighting injustices in her country – against one of the most vile and oppressive racist regimes in the world.


Fact: Winnie is the single most popular individual in Azania (aka South Africa) today. If a “free and fair election” was held there now, August 2007 – and no American, British and Boer money was spent to influence the outcome – Winnie would be the new President of Azania by a landslide. Not a single politician there, including Mbeki, has the massive popularity that this lady has with the ordinary people of her country. Of course, the middle-class and newly rich blacks, and the Boers, detest the woman we ordinary Africans love.


Fact: We want Winnie in State House, Biko City (aka Pretoria). They want Winnie in jail. We won’t get our way – there is too much American, British, Boer and Wealthy-Black money against us. They won’t get there way either – because the ordinary people will burn the country down if they put her in jail.


It is stalemate. But who is this remarkable lady?


“Nomzamo”, which means “she who will survive trials”, was the name her family gave to the newly born Winnie. She was born in 1936 in the Transkei region of Azania and her family were fairly well-off by African standards under White Rule. Winnie had seven brothers and sisters and experienced her first major loss at the age of eight when her mother, a teacher, died (only 3 of her siblings survive today). It is said that this loss, combined with that of losing her new husband Nelson for 27 years, made Winnie the formidable individual that she turned out to be. In those days when we Africans would give an arm for a ticket to the West, Winnie turned down a scholarship to the USA – because she was committed to the struggle against Apartheid and remained at home to fight for her people.


At college and university Winnie encountered and got involved with the ANC. She was arrested and locked up for the first time in 1958 when she was Chair of the Orlando West Branch of the ANC. She still campaigned against the apartheid laws which she defiantly urged black people to disobey. Although Winnie met and married Nelson Mandela in June 1958, Winnie was a formidable political individual in her own right and grew into the iconic freedom fighter that she turned out to be almost entirely on her own without Nelson by her side.


Winnie’s political constituency was always the ANC Women’s Wing – from where she was provided with love and unflinching support during the dark days of Boer Rule. Even when the ANC abandoned her in recent years the Women’s League defiantly elected her as their President – against the wishes of the ANC hierarchy. A very charismatic individual, Winnie makes enemies easily amongst the toady functionaries of party and state, yet the same charisma means that she captivates her followers and those who love her. Demonized by the white-press, who see her as potentially South Africa’s Mugabe, she is loved with the same intensity by the ordinary blacks amongst whom she lived in Soweto and still continues to live – when the newly-rich blacks have moved out of black areas to live with the whites.


When her husband Nelson Mandela was jailed in 1962, Winnie too was “banned” – i.e. imprisoned in her home town of Soweto. Defiant Winnie broke the banning orders and ended up with jail sentences. The toughest of these arrests and jailings was in 1969 when Winnie was detained and spent 18 months in solitary confinement on the “Death Row” wing of Pretoria Prison – under the Terrorism Act! Released from Kroonstad Prison in 1975, Winnie threw herself into the organizing of the Soweto Uprising of 1976 and was promptly arrested and sent to jail again. Six months in jail was followed by nine years of confinement to the remote town of Brandford in the Boer dominated Orange Free State – she was to live in the black slum area! The Boers bombed her house there trying to kill her – twice. Defiantly she broke the banning order for visits to Soweto and ended up in prison again.


Winnie’s supporters formed the Mandela Football Team which became her bodyguard. There is not much doubt that without the protection of the “Football Team”, Winnie would not have lived to see Nelson Mandela released and Azania become an independent country. It is said that the “Football Team” became a powerful force that terrorized people who opposed Winnie Mandela – but then Winnie was herself terrorized by the Apartheid State that made these claims and she suffered for over 30 years at their hands. Once Nelson Mandela was released and black majority rule became inevitable, the functionaries of the oppressive former-Apartheid State combined with those struggling for positions, power and wealth within the new ANC government to neutralize Winnie Madikileza-Mandela – the indomitable warrior for black liberation. Charged with many “crimes”, supposedly committed by the Football Team under her orders, and finally cleared by a court of law, Winnie remains as defiant and indomitable as ever – and just as popular.


What of Winnie and Nelson? Winnie had had to deal with her husband’s absence for 27 years and carry on with the struggle for her peoples’ liberation and one has to admit that she earned heroic status in doing that. Nelson too had to deal with 27 years of imprisonment and he too dealt with that well. Nelson came out of prison an old man bent on appeasing the Boers so that they felt at home in the New South Africa. Winnie was a fiery and relatively young woman whose inclination would have been to give the Boers just a slight taste of the hell that they gave black Africans for four hundred years. Nelson and Winnie had two different attitudes and two different temperaments: they just couldn’t live together as husband and wife in the new country they both fought for. The West, the Boers, and the Big Money preferred Nelson – without Winnie.

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