Uncle Bob Kandetu
South Africa came to a symbolic standstill on Saturday 14th April 2018, when the world descended on Gauteng to celebrate an extraordinary life of one of its revered daughters – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Dubbed the “Mother of the Nation”, she passed through life on 2nd April.
The life of Winnie is intrinsically linked to the African National Congress (ANC). She married an older man (40 years of age)when she herself was only 22. Nelson Mandela emerged from the ANC Youth League alongside the likes of Oliver Tambo and Robert Sobukwe. Mandela grew through the ranks to palm a central role in the leadership of South Africa’s liberation movement. When he was arrested and charged with treason, he shocked his comrades and his lawyers when he on the eve of his court appearance said that if he was to receive a death sentence he would not appeal.
Winnie came from that generation of young black South African women who were devoted and selfless. And the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela drew her to the center-stage of South Africa’s struggle for justice in all aspects of South Africa’s political life. She thus became the target for Apartheid’s reprisals against the ANC and icon of the movement. Winnie and Nelson married on 14th June 1958. In October of the same year she was among 1000 women who were arrested during a mass women’s protest organised against the pass laws.
When the hearse entered the Orlando Stadium, the crowds went thunderous and this stately funeral became one big celebration. The grand stand was one colourful decoration of political parties and churches, each stuck to their own side of the pavilion. Speaker after speaker celebrated in eloquence, this extraordinaire figure. Zenani, elder of the two Mandela daughters, spoke so emotionally about her mother. She did not mince words about people who vilified her mother and held to their stories until after she had died.
The homage of the day came from Julius Malema, leader of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Malema kicked off with the celebration of Winnie Mandela’s undying, defiant fighting spirit and lured the crowds into his party’s slogan of land expropriation without compensation and nationalization of mines and banks, the crowds went thunderous. Malema recognised the mourners and reassured President Cyril Ramaphosa that all present would behave orderly and respectfully because anyone present who would show disrespect to him (Ramaphosa) would be disrespectful to Mama Winnie. On a humorous note, Malema assured President Ramaphosa that even the red sea (in reference to the colors of EFF) was there to cheer salutations respectfully.
Malema recounted the many incidents and their perpetrators to Mama Winnie. He concluded by saying that, if ANC had respect for Winnie Mandela as they said they did, they must rename the Cape Town Airport to Winnie Mandela Airport.
As Julius Malema spoke, my mind tumbled back on memory lane and I remembered so many incidents that took place during the struggle for South Africa. I remembered the Stompie Seipei incident that had tarnished the image of Winnie, only for the charges to crumble after her death. I remembered Peter Mokaba, the youth leader, who had been groomed by Winnie to become the gallant leader of South Africa’s youth, only for Winnie to be prevented from speaking at his funeral.
I thought of Mathew Goniwe, the youth leader and community activist who was captured by police at a road block and killed. I remembered the incident at Elsies River in the Cape, where a youth activist was fatally shot by police. His mother rushed to the scene and was prevented from seeing her son where he lay dead. She desperately pleaded with the police: “He is my child and I want to hold his hand for the last time”. The policeman uttered the words that echoed the world to the shame of Apartheid South Africa: “laat die Baster vrek” (let the Baster die). I remembered a video clip in which Bishop Desmond Tutu implored Winnie to accept that in the past she may have made mistakes and the time called upon all South Africans to say that they were sorry. Winnie said nothing, she just shed tears. And I could imagine what was going through her veins all the way to her brains.
South Africans who shared trenches within the belly of the Apartheid beast can only fight tears at the thought of the many incidents of this nature, many which they witnessed in person and they took solace in the fact that they had at home leaders of the stature of Winnie Mandela. And whether they were standing at a political rally where Winnie could not appear because of her banning orders, whether they cheered at a football match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Moroka Swallows, sitting in church or toiling in a prison cells.
They were reinforced by the knowledge that in the streets of Soweto lived Winnie Madikizela-Mandela alongside Zenani and Zindzi. Zindzi studied in Cape Town and I got to meet her when I went for a speaking engagement at the University of Cape Town. Zindzi slipped into Namibia and featured at the SWAPO rally in Katutura, to bring the message of her father from Robben Island to the people of Namibia. As she stood on the petrol drum make-shift stand to speak, the sea of people in blue, green and red stood in attention and many people cried at the site of this little girl with the heart of a lion. When I saw Zindzi and Zenani I recalled Zephania Kameeta’s words: “The Lord be praised for the day shall come when God’s children will breathe the air of freedom. When that day shall come, no man no matter how many tanks they command, will reverse the cause of events”.
Winnie Mandela has departed from South Africa. Julius Malema is right: Queen Mothers do not die; they multiply like red flowers to replenish the universe.
HAMBA KALHE MAMA!