Editorial Comment: Winnie Mandela; shining beacon for all Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

ZIMBABWE is accustomed to seeing heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle accorded hero and/or heroine status. In some cases, some get State-assisted funerals.

We thank the South African government for according Winnie Madikizela-Mandela one of the highest statuses granted to a civilian member of society — the Special Official Funeral Category 1, that “entails elements of military ceremonial honours and is declared, in line with the Presidency’s State, Official and Provincial Official Funeral Policy for persons of extraordinary credentials specifically designated by the President of the Republic of South Africa”.

Madikizela-Mandela will for posterity remain one of the most celebrated freedom fighters the continent has ever seen. She was a courageous woman who walked where angels feared to tread and for that courage, tenacity, resilience and principled stand, she paid dearly.

Hers was a life of pain, difficult to explain. She gave all that she was for South Africa at a young age. This whole week, we have published a number of articles on Madikizela-Mandela, her persona and what she means in South Africa’s road to socio-economic and political emancipation.

She married Nelson Mandela, who was already a towering figure professionally and politically, at the age of 22. With her husband initially being in and out of detention, she said she was the most “unmarried married woman”.

In her autobiography, “491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69” there is a letter she wrote an already incarcerated Mandela on July 2, 1970 where she says: “We were hardly a year together when history deprived me of you. I was forced to mature on my own. Your formidable shadow which eclipsed me left me naked and exposed to the bitter world of a young ‘political widow’. I know this was a crown of thorns, but I also knew I said: ‘I do’, for better or worse.”

Part of the crown of thorns was the solitary confinement she suffered for 491 days from 1969 to 1970.

Madikizela-Mandela also gives a graphic description of the pain and suffering she underwent when she said in one of the most famous quotes: “When it happens every day of your life when that pain becomes a way of life, I no longer have the emotion of fear — there is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known.”

But she did not give up, up to the very end when her health was failing.

She believed in the ANC and also believed that it was capable of fulfilling the many resolutions they had made in the past about ensuring that the people were empowered economically and otherwise. She would give constructive criticism to ensure that the movement was united and focused.

In an interview with the UK’s Evening Standard, Madikizela-Mandela also stressed that the struggle was not about one person — her ex-husband: “This name Mandela is an albatross around the necks of my family. You all must realise that Mandela was not the only man who suffered. There were many others, hundreds who languished in prison and died. Many unsung and unknown heroes of the struggle and there were others in the leadership too, like poor Steve Biko, who died of the beatings, horribly all alone. Mandela did go to prison and he went in there as a burning young revolutionary. But look what came out.”

Winnie Mandela was no saint, and so too her husband, but she remained a people-centred person. She could have moved out of Soweto and lived in the leafy suburbs, but she stayed with the people through and through.

Madikizela-Mandela was a very beautiful and intelligent woman. She could have divorced Mandela in their early years of marriage. But she hung on, eventually becoming the face of the struggle.

When they divorced, Madikizela-Mandela could have quit the ANC, but she stayed on and worked with her husband and others. Thus she was there for Mandela and the nation up to the very end. No one can begrudge that inasmuch as they called Mandela, “the father of the nation”, Madikizela-Mandela equally is the “mother of the nation”.

May her dear soul rest in eternal peace!

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