In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, soul star Sim­phiwe Dana tells us why she wrote a song for Mama Win­nie, re­ports Charl Blig­naut

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‘Icould see her light up. She lit up in a smile through­out the en­tire time I sang it to her,” says soul star and ac­tivist Sim­phiwe Dana of the first time Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela heard Nokun­yamezela, a song she cre­ated for her. Dana wrote the song in 2015 “as a sig­nif­i­cant ded­i­ca­tion to her, in grat­i­tude and in recog­ni­tion of her ef­forts”, but had never had the op­por­tu­nity to sing it to her un­til the mid­dle of last year.

Pre­par­ing for a live al­bum and DVD record­ing, The Sim­phiwe Dana Sym­phony Ex­pe­ri­ence, she wanted to fi­nally sing Nokun­yamezela to her hero­ine.

“My dear friend, who hap­pens to be her niece, made it all pos­si­ble. We drove to Mama Win­nie’s home for me to per­son­ally give her the in­vi­ta­tion. She was jovial and in good spir­its. She said it would be her hon­our to at­tend,” she said.

Dana then sang her the song in her home. “She ex­pressed her grat­i­tude and said she wouldn’t miss the per­for­mance. I was grate­ful, but a part of me also knew that the chances of her not at­tend­ing were quite high, given her frail health. When I was told that she was in­deed com­ing and was ac­tu­ally in the au­di­ence be­fore the show started, I was be­side my­self with joy, nerves and ex­cite­ment,” Dana re­calls.

In what was prob­a­bly her last visit to a theatre, in Au­gust last year at the Kyalami Theatre On the Track, Madik­izela-Man­dela watched Dana per­form Nokun­yamezela for the sec­ond time.

Dana be­gan the song with a spo­ken tribute, in­ter­rupted re­peat­edly by ap­plause and at one point said, “I even imag­ine that you might have been the first strong black woman that we knew in our world. We thank the uni­verse that she chose to put you among us so that we know what jus­tice is, what strength is and how to be black girl magic.”

Asked about these lines, Dana this week told City Press: “She once said, ‘The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of women ac­cept the pa­tri­archy and pro­tect it. Men dom­i­nate women through the agency of other women them­selves.’ It was she who pub­licly chal­lenged pa­tri­archy and her then hus­band when she didn’t agree with his meth­ods ... while ev­ery­one else saw and treated him as a god – while see­ing her as an ex­ten­sion of him.

“Through­out her life, Mam’ Win­nie al­ways had a very strong mes­sage for young black women and girls, which in it­self was a form of black girl magic, just like Rosa Parks.”

In a soar­ing voice, Dana then launched into the song, which is part praise poem, part vil­lage song and part hymn. At one point in Nokun­yamezela, Dana sings that Madik­izela-Man­dela went to prison, came back and found her­self in an­other prison.

Asked about the line to­day, she says: “Post-1994, the public re­la­tions ma­chine of the Nats [mem­bers of the Na­tional Party] fi­nally found a way to si­lence her by ac­cus­ing her of the mur­der of a black child of the strug­gle. Why were we so quick to be­lieve that the mother of the na­tion was in the busi­ness of killing the very kids she got into tus­sles with apartheid po­lice to pro­tect?

“We per­se­cuted her. The very peo­ple she had sacri­ficed so much to save.”

Dana does not mince her words about Madik­ize­laMan­dela’s liv­ing le­gacy.

“As a black woman, as a black woman ac­tivist, I re­late to her greatly. It took me a long while to re­alise that some of the re­sponses to my ac­tivism were mainly be­cause I was a woman and had noth­ing to do with my pol­i­tics.

“We have suf­fered in the hands of men in this coun­try and con­tinue to do so.

“We will make sure pa­tri­archy is not com­fort­able any­where on this land. The blind­ness of our black lead­ers to the op­pres­sion of women is shocking, that they be­lieve that pa­tri­archy is their right is amaz­ingly ab­surd. Sadly, Mama leaves a huge lead­er­ship gap. No other woman leader has em­braced fem­i­nism as she did.”

Asked how she felt this week, Dana replied, “I have felt an over­whelm­ing sad­ness since I heard of her pass­ing. The mag­ni­tude of her con­tri­bu­tion leaves me speech­less. I don’t know if I feel sad for her or for the scores of pow­er­ful black women who now know the sac­ri­fices it will take, the trauma that will fol­low their de­ci­sion to stand and be counted. The black woman has to fight both racism and her own peo­ple to re­alise her free­dom.”

IN AWE AND GRIEF Singer-song­writer Sim­phiwe Dana ex­plains what was be­hind her song Nokun­yamezela

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