For­mer PA: what Mam’ Win­nie was like

Win­nie Madik­ize­la­Man­dela’s for­mer PA re­calls what is was like be­ing in this for­mi­da­ble woman’s or­bit


HE CAN’T be­lieve he’ll never again pick up the phone and hear Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela’s dis­tinc­tive voice on the other end of the line. Serv­ing as the icon’s per­sonal assistant for 24 years, Alan van Zuy­dam-Reynolds got to know her bet­ter than most – and he can still vividly re­call their last con­ver­sa­tion about a fort­night be­fore her death.

Even though Win­nie (81) had been in and out of hos­pi­tal in recent months he says she was full of en­ergy as she quizzed him about the go­ings-on in lo­cal pol­i­tics.

Although Alan stopped work­ing for Win­nie full time a while back they had such a great rap­port he’d con­tin­ued to help her on an ad hoc ba­sis – and as a project co­or­di­na­tor at the par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fices in Cape Town he was per­fectly placed to give her the gos­sip she craved.

Alan (56) smiles as he re­mem­bers hear­ing chick­ens cluck­ing in the back­ground as she chat­ted to him from her home in Soweto.

“I drafted a let­ter for her a few weeks ago,” he re­calls.

Over the years, work­ing so closely with her, he got to see what made Mam’ Win­nie tick. And he says she had a softer, warmer side that was of­ten over­looked.

Alan says like any mother Win­nie never stopped wor­ry­ing about her chil­dren.

“She was trou­bled by the suf­fer­ing her daugh­ters [Ze­nani (59) and Zindzi (57)] went through dur­ing and af­ter the apartheid years be­cause of who their mother and fa­ther were. I think it trou­bled her to the end of her life.”

But she was a good mom and lov­ing grand­mother to her nine grand­chil­dren, he re­calls. “Her grand­chil­dren gave her great joy.”

And he be­lieves her late for­mer hus­band, Nel­son Man­dela, re­mained her one true love – even though they’d di­vorced in 1996. “I don’t think Win­nie ever loved any­one else. She didn’t al­low any­one ever to dis­re­spect him.

‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock’

No one would risk it in front of her.”

AS A so­cial science stu­dent in 1980 at the then Univer­sity of Natal, Alan was lucky to have Fa­tima Meer as his so­ci­ol­ogy lec­turer.

The renowned au­thor and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist was a life­long friend of the Man­de­las and in­vited Alan to go with her to the re­mote Free State town of Brand­fort, where Win­nie was un­der house ar­rest.

“We trav­elled with packed curry that Fa­tima’s house­keeper cooked. Win­nie loved spicy food,” he says.

Af­ter that first meet­ing in 1981 he and Win­nie kept in close con­tact. But he got to know her even bet­ter from 1994 when he be­came her per­sonal assistant.

He says it al­ways both­ered Win­nie that her name would forever be linked to the mur­der of 14-year-old ac­tivist Stom­pie Seipei in 1989.

Although she main­tained her in­no­cence she knew in the minds of some her legacy was forever tar­nished. “But she knew she could do noth­ing about it. Those who be­lieved it wouldn’t be per­suaded oth­er­wise.”

He re­calls that af­ter the Siz­zlers mur­ders in 2003, in which nine men were killed at a gay mas­sage par­lour in Cape Town, Win­nie ar­ranged for the body of one of the victims to be flown to his fam­ily in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“She asked me to tell no one that she was go­ing to the funeral. She slipped in at the back of the church but the mother of the boy saw her, ran to her and broke down. Win­nie was strong but car­ing.”

Alan says when R&B sing­ing sen­sa­tion Whit­ney Hous­ton toured South Africa in 1994 Win­nie cooked din­ner for her.

He says his boss loved mak­ing a state­ment with her strik­ing head­scarves and trade­mark fash­ion choices.

“In many ways from her mid-twen­ties, she was robbed of her life. It’s one of the ways they failed to break her: the way she dressed.”

She was in­cred­i­bly proud too. “I once asked her about a film about her life I saw,” Alan re­calls. “The ac­tress cried in it. She told me: ‘No se­cu­rity po­lice ever saw me cry­ing’.”

And that’s how he’ll re­mem­ber Mam’Win­nie. “She was fear­less,” Alan says. “She was afraid of noth­ing and no one. She wasn’t afraid of death – that made her in­vin­ci­ble.” S

Alan van Zuy­dam-Reynolds spent 24 years be­ing Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela’s per­sonal assistant and even longer be­ing her friend.

LEFT: A younger Win­nie out­side the house where she spent most of her time in Brand­fort in the Free State, in ex­ile and away from her daugh­ters Zindiswa and Ze­nani, in 1977. The mother of the na­tion, as she was widely known, spent nine years in the town, and in that time opened up a crèche for the chil­dren in a Methodist church that still op­er­ates to­day. ABOVE LEFT: The strug­gle icon in 1977, a year af­ter she called for black peo­ple to unite against op­pres­sion. “It is only when all black groups join hands and speak with one voice that we shall be a bar­gain­ing force which will de­cide its own destiny,” she said in 1976. ABOVE RIGHT: She sur­vived 491 days in soli­tary con­fine­ment dur­ing which she didn’t see any­one but her jail­ers be­tween 1969 and 1970. “Be­ing held incommunicado was the most cruel thing Na­tion­al­ists ever did. It is what changed me, what bru­talised me so much. I knew what it is to hate,” she wrote years later.

LEFT: Win­nie ar­riv­ing at the Old Syn­a­gogue court for Nel­son Man­dela’s trial in 1962 in Pre­to­ria. “They think be­cause they have put my hus­band on an is­land that he will be for­got­ten. They are wrong. The harder they try to si­lence him, the louder I will be­come!” she said in 1962 when Man­dela was on trial for “in­cit­ing per­sons to strike il­le­gally”. The ANC and 31 other or­gan­i­sa­tions were un­banned in 1990.

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