Her funeral was held at the weekend, of course at the age she passed on, it could not have been anything less than a celebration of life. A life spent in the service of community. Winnie Nomzano Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of African statesman and hero, Nelson Mandela, died penultimate week in a Johannesburg hospital. Even though she was 81, the world received the news of her death with shock.
With her passing, the tallest oak in the apartheid struggle, only marginally shorter than Mandela’s, has fallen. Her death marks the end of an era. The woman, who as of right was an anti apartheid champion in the mould of Mandela himself, put in even more as she shared in the pains of the struggle of her then husband who spent 27 years in prison. With her husband in prison, she too was. But beyond that, she did her strong bit out of the walls of jail.
Consequently, It was no surprise that the African National Congress, ANC cannot be consoled. “Winnie Mandela didn’t die,” the South African ruling party said, “She multiplied.” This must be reason she was given a state funeral. It has instructed that she be honoured and the social media is alight with thousands of women in black donning berets, her combat gear.
Born in 1936, we salute this fearless woman for her unforgettable service to Africa. The apartheid struggle defined her life and her life defined the struggle. She eventually became its embodiment and the spear, the arrow-head. Her raised clenched fists and the Zulu battle-cry ‘Amandla’ became recognisable totem all over the world as the resistance to apartheid.
The heartless operators of apartheid did not know what to do with her than to oppress her and by so doing advertised to the world their inhumanity and callousness. They banned, incarcerated, tortured and humiliated her. They exiled her for years and once banished her to a remote town and confined her to the area; they also put her under house arrest and held her in solitary confinement for 18 months. But she was unbowed because she always emerged looking like a saint while her torturers appeared like miserable and desperate dictators that they were.
The more she was oppressed, the more sympathy the struggle received from all over the world. And the more the supporters of apartheid raised questions about the regime. Thus, in the years when the ANC was technically in exile and practically dormant, Winnie Mandela single-handedly kept the struggle going, mobilising the youths and the children.
As the struggle advanced under her wings, the world soon began to recognise her good work. In 1985, she won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award with Allan Boesak and Beyers Naude. In 1988, she received the Candance Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. At the time of those awards, she had become a household name all over the world. Yet, she had humble origins. Both of her parents were school teachers. She was the fourth of eight children, seven girls and a boy. Her mother died when she was nine, but she showed early signs of leadership when she became the head-girl of her high school in Bizana, Pondoland in the Eastern Cape Province.
She then went to Johannesburg to study social work at the Jan Hofmeyr School. She earned a degree in social work in 1956 and also a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of the Witwatersrand. Her working career was in the Bantustan of Transkei, including a position in the Transkei government. She lived at various times at Bizana, Shawbury and Johannesburg. Indeed, her first job as a social worker was at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.
She met Nelson Mandela, who was then still married to Evelyn Mase, in Soweto in 1957 and the couple married the following year. They had two daughters, Zenani in 1958 and Zindziwa in 1960. Mandela was imprisoned in 1963. The couple united in February 1990 when Mandela was released from prison. Two years later, however, the couple separated over irreconcilable differences . But both icons remained in contact. In 2009, she won her seat in parliament and remained a member till death. She was loved by the grassroots of the ANC and she had written her name in the hearts of most South Africans and all Africans who would forever remember how she changed the course of history through her courage and fortitude.
Although she was not a saint, her looks painted a saintly picture. She was beautiful even in her old age. Her works in that country and her fame around the world put women in front and pushed their rights in the direction of equality.