By Dominic Yooku deGraft Aidoo
Email Dominic: firstname.lastname@example.org .
“To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock’.” Winne Madikizela Mandela
Yesterday was Mother’s Day in Ghana, and I am writing this article to celebrate Winne Madikizela Mandela of blessed memory. As always, I am writing from my perspective. I recall vividly in 1985, I was in class five in Ghana. I cannot recall the subject being taught in class, neither do I recall the importance of the person at the centre of the lesson. All I recall was being taught a song that went something like this:
“Free Mandela, Free Mandela, Free Mandela…”
I no longer remember the rest of the lyrics of the song either. However, it was many years later, namely the weeks leading to the release of Mandela, when it dawned on me that something “big” was about to happen. It was many weeks after the release of Nelson Mandela that I saw, for the first-time, pictures of Winne Madikizela Mandela walking hand-in-hand with Nelson Mandela out of Cape Town’s Victor Vester Prison. I recall with nostalgia the historic images of Winnie with a clenched fist, punching the air in salutation. Nelson Mandela, after twenty-seven years, was freed on 11th February 1990.
Sadly, on 2nd April 2018, Winnie Madikizela Mandela passed on to be with her Maker. It is reported that she died peacefully in her sleep in a Johannesburg hospital, surrounded by her family and loved ones. She was laid to rest on the 14th of April 2018, with many international dignitaries attending the funeral. Ghana sent a five-member delegation, led by former First Lady Mrs. Agyeman Rawlings. Just as the Continent of Africa mourned the death of Winnie, many media houses in the West were not charitable in their narration about the Winnie Madikizela Mandela legacy. Some political commentators suspect there is a deliberate attempt to taint her contribution to the struggle for the overthrow of the apartheid regime.
For example, one newspaper in the UK described
Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s life as “blood-soaked.” Really? I guess blood soaked because of “excesses” in her resolve to topple Apartheid, an evil, bloody and barbaric system of authoritarian political culture, based on white supremacy, which marshalled the state to repress the black indigenes of South Africa for the benefit of a minority few.
Winnie was celebrated on the African Continent because she became a vocal leader in the liberation struggle when Mandela, with many of his comrades (freedom fighters), were imprisoned. Her suffering during the thirty-five years of Apartheid is seldom talked about, and her weaknesses over-exaggerated. We forget how young Winnie was when she had to take up the fight against the white South African establishment. As a single young mother of four children, Winnie was put under twenty-four hours surveillance, harassed and threatened daily, arrested and imprisoned many times. She even spent four hundred and ninety-one days in solitary confinement, and almost nine years in exile in Brandfort, Orange Free State. She was tortured and stripped of her dignity as a woman by denying her sanitary products while in solitary confinement. Yet, Mama Winnie could not be broken. The “Iron Lady”, as she was often called, was made of steel and her determination to crush the evil system of Apartheid was something she was prepared to trade in only with her own life.
Let us be fair and report history in a balanced way. Mama Winnie was by no means a saint. She made many mistakes in her fight to topple the Apartheid regime. It is, perhaps, within this context that her legacy must be properly assessed. For example, in 1985, Madikizela-Mandela returned to Soweto in defiance of the government order banning her from appearing in the township, and, as she herself admitted to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), “things went horribly wrong.” The Mandela Football Club (her body guards), which she formed, was accused of many brutalities, and even murder. An allegation she denied till she died. Admittedly, Mama Winnie’s football club is a blot to her legacy, but it must not be highlighted to dim her achievements. She was accused of openly having an affair with another man while her husband languished in prison. In 1991, a court found her guilty of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault in the murder of Stompie Sepei (Moeketsi), In 1995, she was sacked from her cabinet job by her husband, amidst corruption allegations. Mama Winnie faults are well documented and the list is endless. It is useful to note here that the Apartheid regime had mounted a very concentrated propaganda campaign against Winnie, and it is a known fact that there were even spies planted in the football club. Only history will tell Winnie’s actual involvement in the atrocities she was accused of committing.
That notwithstanding, in the face of intimidation, humiliation, arrests, banning orders and daily police harassment, she ensured that the world never forgot the struggle of the people of South Africa, nor of her husband, Nelson Mandela. We all recall the visit of celebrities such as Ted Kennedy and Richard Attenborough bringing along the world media after she was exiled to the remote town of Brandfort. While Nelson Mandela and many of the freedom fighters languished in prison and silenced, it was the defiant Iron Lady Winnie Mandela who kept the momentum going. Would the plight of the oppressed South Africans have been in the lime-light had those agitation and struggles not happened? Those who were “lucky” enough to have been incarcerated and exiled were spared the agony of the persecution during the Apartheid era. Those who were not so lucky had to continue their struggle for their emancipation. Mama Winnie rose and fought for the emancipation of all those who lived in South Africa, especially, the oppressed blacks. But, for the efforts of Winnie, the world had forgotten their plight. If Mandela and his comrades were comforted in prison, it is because they knew that the struggle for the emancipation of the people of South Africa was a dream that could be realised. It took the defiance of the likes of Winnie Mandela to keep the flame of hope alive. Hypocritically, many years after the fall of apartheid we still celebrate and immortalise the architects of apartheid on prominent plinths. So, then, why can’t the media be fair to Mama Winnie and celebrate her for bringing the axis of such evil down? The question really is how has Mama Winnie managed to court the anger of the West? After all, she was a comrade in arms to no less a person than the revered Madiba.
I have wondered how Mama Winnie managed to make so many enemies. Could it be her continuous quest for economic freedom for black South Africans, and the way she went about it? At the heart of this was the issue of land ownership, and many say Mama Winnie made a lot of enemies both at home and abroad, because she, from the onset, would not renege on the struggle for the expropriation of land. The South African land was 100%-owned by the indigenes till the arrival of the Dutch, who took the land by force. Having taken the land by force, a law, the Natives Land Act, was enacted in 1913, which restricted black people from buying or renting land in “white South Africa”. The law then paved the way for the legal and forceful removal of black people from these lands. The resultant effect was that the Act polarised South Africa dividing the country into white and black areas. Many years later, the best land was in the hands of a few thousand white commercial farmers, while tens of thousands of black peasants were crammed together on the less fertile lands. After the collapse of Apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) government said it wanted to return 30% of this land to its previous owners, the indigenes, by 2014. So far, about 8% of this land has been returned. The 30% policy failed, because of the government’s “willing buyer, willing seller” policy. The policy did not compel the white South African farmers to sell their land, and they are obviously not prepared to sell the land to the original indigenous owners. Admittedly, the question of land must be dealt with without sensation. However, it is not right that 10% of the white minority of South Africa own almost 80% of the land. Interestingly, the lands are owned by trusts and companies. Dare remove the veil and you will see that the real owners are the few white minorities. How many South African politicians have we heard say time and time again that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, white and black.” How can South Africa belong to all, when 10% own 80% of the land?
Many commentators are of the view that Winnie Mandela rejected the idea of sacrificing the economic emancipation of the people of South Africa for political expediency. No wonder Mama Winnie made enemies both home and abroad. To some indigenes, the issues of land appropriation without compensation is to correct a historical injustice which should not have happened in the first place.
The founding fathers will agree with me when I say Rest in Peace Mama Winnie. They will also agree that the expropriation of land without compensation was a call by many poor South Africans, which Mama Winnie responded to. To Mama Winnie, the land was acquired in a pernicious manner, and must be returned into the hands of the indigenes. To many, she is a true citizen of the African Continent who fought and was prepared to die for her conviction. To some of us, she was simply a mother!
Rest in Peace Mama!