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