Ma Winnie: Noth­ing left to shock us

CityPress - - Voices - Mo­didima Man­nya voices@city­press.co.za

There will al­ways be a se­ri­ous temp­ta­tion to ex­plain Mama Winnie Madik­izela-Man­dela in one way or the other. Not that it is wrong, de­sir­able or un­de­sir­able. It is sim­ply that ei­ther way we are deal­ing with a phe­nom­e­nal per­son. I don’t want to say a phe­nom­e­nal wo­man for fear of en­ter­ing the ter­rain of then deal­ing with the is­sues of a wo­man in­stead of a per­son. If you want to know the true dark se­crets of peo­ple, wait un­til they head to the di­vorce court. That is the point when even a tea­spoon is a big is­sue.

I have read with great in­ter­est Mondli Makhanya’s opin­ion piece on Mama Winnie. I read it over and over again, not be­cause I found any­thing wrong with it per se. I dare not shoot the mes­sen­ger. I was just in­trigued at what sup­pos­edly comes from se­nior peo­ple within the move­ment, par­tic­u­larly those parts which seek to ex­plain the nar­ra­tive that Mama Winnie was an un­guided rebel and had se­ri­ous life­style is­sues. It may not help to even try and mount a de­fence for her. Like Makhanya, we can only rely on hearsay, spec­u­la­tion and opin­ion.

No doubt there are many views about who she was and what she stood for. Of course, much pos­i­tive stuff has come out from un­ex­pected quar­ters, such as former se­cu­rity po­lice op­er­a­tives. The most telling is that a vi­cious cam­paign was run by the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment to tar­nish her im­age and that of the ANC. Most in­ter­est­ing is that this comes into the open im­me­di­ately upon her death. One won­ders whether there is more to come.

There is a sig­nif­i­cant part of the en­tire nar­ra­tive that one hopes will be told one day. That is whether within the broader move­ment there were no forces, ei­ther on their own or in col­lu­sion with the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, that par­tic­i­pated in the cam­paign to vil­ify her. One good thing about Mama Winnie is that any­thing bad to be said about her has been said al­ready. There is very lit­tle that can come out and shock any­one. What, how­ever, re­mains the re­ally in­ter­est­ing part is the de­gree and ex­tent of truth in what we have al­ready heard.

At a point we heard that one of the areas of dis­com­fort with Chris Hani was his mil­i­tancy. Like Mama Winnie, we hear sto­ries of how some, even in se­nior lead­er­ship, were un­com­fort­able with some of his pro­nounce­ments. One still has to hear more when those with ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion are ready to tell us. I raise this be­cause it ap­pears that Mama Winnie was a source of dis­com­fort. I am not sug­gest­ing that those who were un­com­fort­able were wrong. The re­al­ity is that the his­tory of the ANC tells us about mil­i­tants as far back as 1949. Surely mil­i­tancy must be mil­i­tancy and can only vary in ex­pres­sion.

Of­ten lead­ers say what those they lead want to hear. Not be­cause the orig­i­nal idea comes from the leader, but be­cause al­ready the ground dic­tates the terms of en­gage­ment. The im­pres­sion cre­ated is that Mama Winnie would have been this po­lit­i­cal thug who slept and woke up with a box of matches in her hand. It ap­pears that, be­cause she ad­dressed public plat­forms and said things, then those were orig­i­nal ideas. It may sound weird to say this, but the re­al­ity is that the real mil­i­tancy started when a de­ci­sion was taken to em­bark on the armed strug­gle. The pro­nounce­ments and the mood then can­not be said to have been friendly. There was more hard talk than that heard from Mama Winnie. That talk it­self was just not hard talk, be­cause it re­sulted in death and se­ri­ous in­juries for oth­ers. War started us­ing more deadly ma­te­rial than a box of matches. It is pos­si­ble that, even if we at­tribute the idea of the matches to Mama Winnie, we can count the in­stances when it was used – com­pared with the war aris­ing from the armed strug­gle. All I am try­ing to say is that con­text will al­ways be im­por­tant.

It is danger­ous, know­ing how elec­tive con­fer­ences of the ANC work, to as­sume that she would have been elected deputy pres­i­dent. The re­al­ity is that pop­u­lar­ity per se is no ticket to elec­tion into a top po­si­tion. It, how­ever, makes sense for the pur­pose of the nar­ra­tive that she was pre­vented from be­ing elected. If that were so, many who should never have been el­i­gi­ble would have been pre­vented. But more than any­thing, the true in­sult is to the del­e­gates at that con­fer­ence. The re­al­ity of the nar­ra­tive im­plies that they were re­duced to pup­pets. Elec­tions at ANC con­fer­ences start at branch nom­i­na­tion level.

An­other danger­ous im­pres­sion cre­ated is that FW de Klerk woke up one morn­ing to de­cide that very day that Nel­son Man­dela was to be re­leased. In fact, be­fore Man­dela was re­leased, Wal­ter Sisulu and oth­ers were re­leased. It was known that Man­dela would fol­low. It sounds disin­gen­u­ous for any­one to cre­ate an im­pres­sion of some sud­den emer­gency. On the con­trary, we should be ask­ing ques­tions whether Mama Winnie was not in fact kept in the dark about when Man­dela would be re­leased. Those who told Makhanya that they had to go look for her should please stand up and an­swer ques­tions about whether they in­deed knew on a sud­den emer­gency ba­sis that Man­dela was to be re­leased, hav­ing re­gard for the fact that his re­lease was a process.

It does make sense for any­one who has al­ready de­clared their dis­com­fort with her to con­struct a nar­ra­tive that they had to go and look for her and found her in a state. I am not say­ing they didn’t. But that they had to go and look for her in the first place tells a story. The painful part of this story is when the very peo­ple who de­clared you a dis­com­fort do not even know where to find you, but can re­mem­ber that you are crit­i­cal for an ac­tiv­ity they need to ex­e­cute.

I as­sume that the real sug­ges­tion is that she was so drunk wher­ever she was. I must say that I see peo­ple very drunk on a daily ba­sis. I see peo­ple so drunk who can­not even walk. I am not say­ing that it is proper. I am just in­ter­ested to un­der­stand why it is such a big is­sue.

Apartheid se­cu­rity op­er­a­tives have now come out to say some mem­bers of the Man­dela United Foot­ball Club were their agents. I have heard that the ANC in ex­ile suf­fered the same fate of be­ing in­fil­trated. I have heard about askaris. Maybe what is dif­fer­ent here is whether she had the ca­pac­ity the ANC had to deal with its own in­fil­tra­tion.

When peo­ple be­come es­tranged, ex­pect any of them, as they head to the di­vorce court, to throw as much mud on to each other as pos­si­ble. I agree with Makhanya that we should not see her as a vil­lain or a saint. Ev­ery­thing said and done, pa­tri­archy is not an ex­cuse here. I have no doubt that those who put up this nar­ra­tive are males. I am sad­dened that her beauty be­comes part of the nar­ra­tive. I am of course prob­a­bly ig­no­rant to think that her be­ing a wo­man was not the true main­stay of the re­sent­ment. She was as a wo­man ex­pected to be­have in par­tic­u­lar way.

Hav­ing re­gard for what she went through dur­ing her life, she re­mains a phe­nom­e­nal per­son.

Man­nya is a former public ser­vant and an ad­vo­cate of the high

court

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