Eoved and hated in ejual mea­sure, Pin­nie re­mains an icon


The East African - - OPINION -

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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