Calling on Winnie Mandelas

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner, activist and politician died a day before my birthday.

In my quiet celebrations, I usually take stock of what I have achieved and failed to achieve. This year, I spent reflecting on and admiring the life of one of Africa’s most bold, charismatic, energetic and unapologetic daughters, Winnie-Madikizela Mandela.

When I got a WhatsApp message that simply said ‘Winnie Mandela has departed’, The response from me was ‘As in dead?’ and then I got a confirmation that yes, she is dead.

I thought the one who sent the message would respond that she had departed for her home after being discharged from the hospital. That was my wish.

My emotional connection with this phenomenal daughter of the land was reaffirmed in November 2010, when in a group of other journalists from Sadc countries, I attended a training in Johannesburg, South Africa.

We were taken on a tour of Soweto, starting from the Hector Pieterson Museum in Orlando West. The tour’s last stop was at Winnie and Nelson Mandela’s Soweto home, which has been turned into a museum.

The museum guide produced a brochure which had a list of fees that we had to pay if we wanted to go inside the house. For Sadc members, the fee then was R40 while for non-Sadc members it was R60. Many journalists protested the fee—a growing tendency among journalists, saying they should have been accorded free entry, justifying that they are Africans and the fee should apply to non-Africans—flawed thinking.

I had R100 on me, which was for upkeep. I didn’t hesitate to pay to tour the house. Growing up I had heard a lot about Nelson Mandela and, in particular, about Mandela’s fierce and fearless Winnie.

I wanted to get a feel of the place these two African icons lived. The apartheid government’s violence and the struggles the Mandelas went through, is very evident from the wall of the house, which is riddled with bullet holes.

We were told of the struggles and how Winnie fought back and kept the fire burning and making sure that Nelson Mandela’s name is never forgotten while in prison. From henceforth, I had nothing but admiration for this woman of valour.

I imagined how many of us would have stood up to such a violent regime, look it in the face and challenged it.

Winnie Mandela has left so many lessons for the African woman—that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. She has also taught women, to sit at the table which is oftentimes laid out for men only while women are banished to the kitchen to prepare meals for the men to eat.

Winnie, without uttering a word but by her actions said, ‘a woman can do what a man can do—and do it even better than a man’.

She has left a lesson that your freedom will not be given to you on a silver platter, you have to demand and fight for it.

Even in death, Winnie is saying ‘don’t be an apologetic woman who is threatened by men’. You can tear apart this patriarchal society and you do not have to ask for its permission to do something that has to be done. Show them what you are made of and that you can be more than just the title of Mrs. so and so.

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in his tribute to Winnie Mandela said people like her do not die, but multiply to a forest of trees.

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