Column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch
THIS weekend many South Africans celebrated the Mother of the Nation, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s 79th birthday. One South African passionately tweeted :“There can never be a Nelson Mandela without a Winnie Mandela!”
Nelson Mandela represents the greatness of South Africa but so does Winnie, but in an uncomfortable sort of way.
Mandela lifted us up towards our highest selves so that we would forget our wounds, and for a time we did. We believed that the rainbow nation would magically assemble itself. On Wednesday, there is an anti corruption march taking place in various cities including East London. It promises to be the largest march organised by unions, civil society and churches together. This march shows that the rainbow nation did not magically assemble itself as Marikana, poverty, crime and the rape of women testify that our wounds are not to be ignored. During the Mandela years the Rugby World Cup was a symbol of national unity; today there are many South Africans who are not supporting the Springboks because of lack of transformation. The Madiba magic was absolutely necessary at the time in order for us to survive the harsh reality that faced newly freed people.
In Winnie however, we see the truth. That is if we are not too intimidated to stare beyond her unfading beauty, her dignified Xhosa crown that defied apartheid’s reign, or her unmistakable presence that commands attention even when she is silent.
Winnie was not imprisoned with fellow comrades in Robben Island, nor was she exiled where she could reflect on the state of her nation from a distance. Instead, Winnie was the heart of the struggle for liberation. There was no escape and she influenced the direction of the country from within.
She not only bears the wounds of an evil system that unjustly confined her in solitary confinement but she is also responsible for inflicting wounds on others. We do not speak of Stompie as a victim of the struggle as we do about Hector Peterson. Winnie bears the pain of being brutalised by the apartheid regime and that of being associated with a hellish method of killing township dissidents and alleged police informers.
Mandela resembles who we could be, while Madikizela-Mandela resembles our strength and all our wounds. She is what it took for us to get here. Winnie is everything we fear to acknowledge about ourselves as a nation.
Recently, one of Mandela’s grandsons was accused of raping a 15 year old girl. The family of the 15 year old who was raped claimed that Winnie had sent bodyguards to intimidate them to withdraw the case. This accusation is made about the Mother of the Nation who also served as the ANC Women’s League president for 10 years. Whether this is true or not, this image of a Mother of the Nation, who was also a president of the most influential women’s organisation in the history of South Africa, gives us a glimpse of the past we try to forget and of why rape remains a crisis in a country that is full of heroes.
Winnie embodies the real cost of the Rainbow Nation. Her name is Nomzamo, “one who tries” but she is also Winnie, she tries until she wins. She fought for this country to a fault. Now we can stand for ourselves in a free country.
To say that Winnie is only good is dishonest; to say that she is only bad is a lie. In Winnie, our entire struggle history is inscribed. It is a story of courage, victory, sadness, joy and shame. If we dance around our shame and pretend that it never existed, we will continue to reap violence upon violence in the name of freedom.