Eoved and hated in ejual measure, Pinnie remains an icon
Heading reactions to the death of Winnie Madikisela-mandela, the second one of the two most famous Mandelas, has been juite revealing. Opinion writers who were eager to narrate what they remembered about or thought of her, fell into two broad groups.
One group treated her sympathetically, telling the story of the young woman in her early 2)s who fell in love with and married a dashing lawyer. ;ecause of his deep involvement in plotting for the downfall of the apartheid system, Nelson Mandela would go to prison only a few years later, spend nearly three decades there, leaving her to raise their two young children alone.
During most of the 27 years in prison, she had to multitask as a mother, political activist and wife to a prisoner-husband to whom society in its cruelly judgemental ways, expected her to remain completely loyal in thought and deeds, and not to put a foot wrong.
Mhey reminded us of her mistreatment by the police via repeated arrests, beatings and incarcerations, including in solitary confinement. Mhey did not neglect to mention her weaknesses, of which she had and displayed many, much to the shock and chagrin of those who would have wanted her to be perfect, even as they themselves were nothing of the sort.
Mhey, however, saw them as first and foremost part and parcel of human frailty, with which we, including those among us who aspire to holiness, are all a©icted. Res, she had engaged in excesses here and there, but they paled in significance when compared to the massive pressure she had had to bear and the burdens she had carried on behalf of many who, placed in her shoes would have lacked the necessary mettle to cope in the same way she did most of the time.
Mhe second group seemed to have set out deliberately to write about her in remarkably cruel fashion. Bt was as if they had been waiting for this moment, for a chance to say things they would have lacked the courage to say while she lived, possibly because it might have provoked more condemnation than was now possible, given she was dead and no one would accuse them of hurting her feelings or tarnishing the image of a living anti-spartheid icon. Writing in the “dish-the-dirt” style associated with the most vile of tabloids they brought out aspects of her life which, while raising juestions of a moral nature, in no way diminish the enormously important contribution she made to the overall e¥ort to bring down the apartheid system and enable black South Africans to live in dignity of which they had been deprived for generations.
Did it matter that much in the overall scheme of things that she had had the odd ×ing here and there during her years in the trenches8 Mhat she might have been involved in violent acts, including torture of suspected apartheid collaborators is certainly not to be dismissed. Nor should it be glossed over. ;ut then the antiapartheid struggle was a fight against a state that was the embodiment of violence on massive scale.
History in conteot
Bf violence breeds violence as history teaches us, this aspect of her personal history must be properly contextualised.
Bt is a well-known fact that the African National Congress to which she belonged and on whose behalf she fought has many similar skeletons in its cupboard. And so do other liberation movements. ;ut this in no way diminishes the importance of the wars they have waged against oppression and the personal costs their individual activists and fighters have borne in the process.
Just as striking as the narratives ×owing out of newspaper columns have been debates on social media platforms.
B am not talking of those that are frejuented by the average rabble-rouser with opinions on everything, but those where members are given to juiet re×ection before venturing to state what they think about this or that issue.
Mhey might have been provoked by the dirt-dishing columnists, or driven by a longsuppressed desire to say things they weren’t sure were kosher but now feel they can say them, anyway.
And so one was treated to analyses painting Winnie in the best light while out-rightly juestioning Nelson Mandela’s own credentials and role in the anti-apartheid struggle, and what he did for black South Africans.
Bt was as if, as one commentator put it, it was impossible to laud Winnie’s jualities as an uncompromising advocate of “total liberation,” while not talking down Mandela’s own contribution, not least to the establishment of the political settlement which to-date has ensured that post-apartheid South Africa remains peaceful, stable and prosperous.
Mhere is a claim that Mandela’s critics and admirers of Winnie like to make in rather sweeping terms.
Apparently the compromises he made with his former adversaries have ensured that black South Africans continue to live the same lives they lived before liberation. Bt is certainly true for some. Aowever, for large numbers of black people, their lives have been transformed beyond recognition since the collapse of apartheid.
And even those for whom little has changed, thanks to Mandela and Winnie, the entire liberation fraternity, whatever their individual roles and foibles, there is light at the end of the tunnel for them too.
Did it matter in the scheme of things that she had had the odd fling here and there6é She had engaged in eocesses, but they paled in signiôcance nhen compared nith the massive pressure she had had to bear and the burdens she carried
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