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In her final days, struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela flatly refused to use the wheelchair she was offered. “Ndizakungena engxoweni [I will be sitting in a sack]. I will never sit on the wheelchair,” was her final answer. She insisted on only using her blue crutch, despite her deteriorating health.
Businessman and struggle veteran Tokyo Sexwale giggles about Madikizela-Mandela’s “asoze” (I will never) attitude during their last phone conversation, a week before she died.
“She believed in walking tall.” He says her attitude was to “defy gravity just like she defied the boers”.
“I offered her a wheelchair and she refused. She preferred to walk. Then I said to her ‘but then you have a third leg’. And she then said that was far better than to sit.”
Madikizela-Mandela had asked for many wheelchairs, but they were meant for other people.
Sexwale says he and Madikizela-Mandela had a tough love, mother-and-son relationship. He was one of her go-to people in times of financial need. Money ran like sand through her fingers. She just gave it away.
Sometimes it would annoy Sexwale, who helped look after her and her family.
“It’s like every poor person knew – if you are needy just go to her house. Whatever funds Winnie had, be it from her [MP’s] salary or whatever she asked from people, she would give to others.
“You would say to her ‘keep this or bank this and try and get interest’. A week later it would all be gone. She would have given it to someone.
“I used to get annoyed when she asked for assistance and when you give to her, a month later, she doesn’t have it. Even her children would say ‘uphisene’ [she gave it away].”
Sexwale describes Madikizela-Mandela as “one of the worst financial managers”.
“Winnie had many people who assisted her. But there is one thing about her: She was a terrible financial manager. Terrible.”
He bought her a maroon Volkswagen beetle, identical to the one she used to drive around Soweto in when he was young. She never drove the replacement. Sexwale says he was told she would just sit in it. He does not know what happened to it and assumes she gave it away too.
Sexwale says getting angry and ignoring her calls would not help, because either the guilt made him call her back, or she would be at his front door. Also, she could lure one to her house and spoil you with her special breyani, samp, dumplings or a pig roast.
“Sometimes I would say to her ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’, but she would say ‘make it grow on trees’. Sometimes she would use harsh words against me as though I am the enemy, but a week later I’m her son.
“I knew when the poor got to her, because I became her son. She was a mother to the dirty, the unwashed, the sick – she couldn’t help it.
“Many, many people also helped, but all of it was like sand in her hands because she would end up with nothing.
“She was a permanent fundraiser for people. She has nothing. I can assure you, she died with nothing.”
Sexwale sits in the board of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He says MadikizelaMandela and her children never benefited from their surname, or from having a statesman for a father. They never stole a penny from the public purse and had to fend for themselves.
Before Madikizela-Mandela was banished to Brandfort, a young Sexwale would often see this beautiful woman driving her maroon beetle. But they dared not stare when her car approached because that would make her suspect they were spies.
He went to Orlando West High School, not far from the Mandela’s Vilakazi Street home.
Aged 17 and a few months before he matriculated, Sexwale became part of the furniture at her house. He often ran errands for the banned and house-bound MadikizelaMandela, and soon earned enough trust to be sent on secret political missions.
“A lot of things happened at that house, from recruitments to Umkhonto weSizwe to scholarships to study abroad. All that virtually happened under the noses of the boers. I saw the tears of happiness when she would say she is going to Robben Island. I also saw the other tears – hot ones – when she came back.
“Then she would go to the bedroom and slouch on the bed without shoes and start crying. She has left her husband in jail. What life is it? She can’t even leave the house, imprisoned in her own home. Winnie went through things, but her courage knew no bounds.”
Sexwale says Madikizela-Mandela’s life was far too complicated for one to judge her.
“She was not standing there like a good old Maria. This woman symbolised the strength of our people when there was no one in South Africa.” SMS us on 35697 using the keyword WINNIE and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50