Winnie Mandela: Blessed is the dead

Blessed is Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela (1936-2018) for she has been posthumously celebrated as the mother of the modern democratic South African nation and indeed the continent, Africa! She passed away on 2 April 2018 at 82 after eventful life of struggle against apartheid and better Africa rid of poverty and oppression. 


I agree with the American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, who in a tribute, observed that the ANC “didn’t show up Winnie Madikizela-Mandela enough appreciation while alive…“freedom fighters are only appreciated after they die”. The outpouring of official and unofficial tributes which rightly accorded Winnie Mandela her deserved status as a frontline freedom fighter would have been better at her birthday rather than her grave side! 

Her organization, the African National Congress (ANC) looked the other way when she was being smeared with phony murder and fraud charges. Like all the oppressed confronting the meanest inhuman regime known to humankind (apartheid system), Winnie Mandela was certainly not infallible, no thanks to the atrocities and provocations of apartheid. But it was wrong to make a mountain out of the outcry and yelling of the oppressed against oppression as the white dominate South African media once did. A day after her death, it’s time we re-read Winnie Mandela’s sobering words conveying her pains. Witness this: “The years of imprisonment hardened me…. Perhaps if you have been given a moment to hold back and wait for the next blow, your emotions wouldn’t be blunted as they have been in my case. 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”. The hated apartheid government in the 70s sent her into exile to the secluded Free State town of Brandfort for nine years! 


“I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela once said! Last Friday, the United Nations paid special tribute to her tin New York – while here on home soil, her body has made its final journey to her Soweto home. Speaking at the special memorial, UN secretary general Antonio Gutiérrez said Winnie as a symbol of resistance against oppression could be overstated. Winnie was the authentic Mama Africa! She together with her husband, Nelson Mandela epitomized remarkable sacrifices for the freedom of all of us against the tyranny of apartheid. Lest we forget, not long ago racist South Africa shamelessly separated the beautiful peoples of that great country on account of their God-given skins. Apartheid South Africa even callously separated young handsome husband – Mandela from his beautiful wife; Winnie for 27 years! Winnie courageously joined the millions who fought and defeated apartheid. She combined rare multiple roles of a woman: a mother, grandmother, freedom fighter, party organizer and a parliamentarian among others. As a stateswoman, she was humans-labour friendly. 

My recollection of Winnie was that of a good woman who exhibited unconditional love for others. My close contact with her was in Abuja in 2010 at Daily Trust Dialogue/Roundtable. Paradoxically I just bought a book: WINNIE MANDELA (A LIFE) by Anne Marie Du Perez (2005). I demanded from her an autograph of a compelling read.  Without hesitation she obliged me with a pleasure and affectionate smile. Her signature/ autograph “MUCH LOVE” is the best I ever had from any great figure in the world (and I had a bagful of such autographs). For the past three years through my dear comrade Patrick of Union of Mine workers of South Africa, I had planned a visit to Mama Winnie’s home down town in Soweto for an engaging lesson in leadership before death came calling.

Winnie was truly a symbol of dignified courage. I recall that former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo was the moderator of 2010 Round Table. Obasanjo as a modern day “African King-King” derives pleasure to dictate to others with little tolerance for others to do same to him. As the Chairman, OBJ spoke endlessly on divisive local Nigerian issue which had nothing to do with theme of the Dialogue: “The African Woman and Politics”, after which he decreed few minutes each to all the female panelists including Mama Winnie. Trust Winnie for legitimate resistance! She simply ignored Obasanjo’s time dictatorship, and took her time to speak on the relevant topic of the day. As far back as 1970, Winnie said; “To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock!” Some of her quotable quotes from Trust Dialogue of 2010 are: “Women should rise up to the challenge of their marginalization in male-dominated society”; “Women are their own liberators”; the one I found most powerful was: “Nothing about us without us”. 

I suggest that African schools should identify  great  African women leaders like Winnie in  our continent and share their experiences as lessons for young Africans. Winnie was also an organizational faithful who like Nelson Mandela, despite some occasional frustrations with ANC still kept fate with the ANC to the end. Most importantly, very few South African leaders are openly grateful for the role other African countries, notably Nigeria played in defeating apartheid like Winnie Mandela. May her soul rest in peace!

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