‘The best years of my life have been spent un­der ban­ning or­ders’

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - @PLAY -

In 1957, while stand­ing at a bus stop in Soweto, the beau­ti­ful Win­nie caught the eye of 39-year-old Nel­son Rolih­lahla Man­dela. At the time he was mar­ried to Eve­lyn Mase, with whom he had four chil­dren, but their re­la­tion­ship was strained and they di­vorced in 1958. Win­nie and Nel­son mar­ried that same year, in the midst of the Trea­son Trial. His pro­posal was any­thing but ro­man­tic, Win­nie re­called in her 1984 mem­oir, Part of my Soul Went With Him: ‘One day Nel­son just pulled up on the side of the road and said: “You know, there is a wo­man who is a dress­maker, you must go and see her, she is go­ing to make your wed­ding gown. How many brides­maids would you like to have?”’ The cou­ple wed in Transkei and had two chil­dren: Ze­nani, born in 1959, and Zindzi, born the fol­low­ing year. In May 1969, po­lice raided Win­nie’s home in Soweto and de­tained her for con­spir­acy un­der the Ter­ror­ism Act. She was kept in soli­tary Up­ris­ing in 1976, she was ban­ished to the small town of Brand­fort in the then-Or­ange Free State, where she spent nine years un­der house ar­rest. ‘I have lived most of my life alone,’ Win­nie said in an in­ter­view while in Brand­fort. ‘The best years of my life have been spent un­der ban­ning or­ders. Ex­ile here means be­ing in prison. It is the ex­treme in Brand­fort – in a house with no elec­tric­ity, no run­ning water, no po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies and see­ing fel­low ac­tivists like He­len Joseph.

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