The son of the mother of the nation
Julius Malema recalls his Ma Winnie’s scoldings and praise
● EFF leader Julius Malema could not believe the news that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had died, and later that night wept alone, overwhelmed by grief for the woman who had sparked his passion, defended him and invested her hopes that he would someday be president.
He was in Polokwane at a family lunch for his grandmother when he received the call from Madikizela-Mandela’s grandson Zondwa Mandela.
“I was just in denial, that maybe there’s some miscommunication,” Malema said.
“At night, I got extremely disorganised. I go into crying alone. I didn’t want my wife and kids to see I’m in a different space.”
In an extensive and emotional interview with the Sunday Times, Malema spoke of the mother-son relationship he shared with the struggle stalwart, which began when he was a teenager.
The first time they met, when she came to address a winter school in his township of Seshego, Madikizela-Mandela saw the same fire in him that burned in her, and predicted he would make his mark in politics.
Malema, about 16 at the time, was given the opportunity to speak in her presence.
“When I finished, she had very good things to say to me. She said: ‘You’ve got a very promising future in politics. Just focus on your education. Remain an activist, we see the future in you.’ ”
The relationship was cemented.
“We just became family. We’d talk about almost everything. We’d talk about our fears, things that make us happy. We’d talk about things that trouble us politically, particularly her,” said Malema.
The two defended each other through difficult moments in their lives.
Before Malema was expelled from the ANC, Madikizela-Mandela went to speak in his defence before the ANC disciplinary committee. She stood by him when he was arrested and the South African Revenue Service had his belongings confiscated. Malema said she would call him to check how he and his grandmother were coping.
Similarly, Malema stood by Madikizela-Mandela during her troubles.
When she was convicted of fraud in 2003, police carried Malema out of court after he shouted at the judge.
He also rallied support for her when there were no funds to pay for her security personnel and she had no protection, and lobbied for her to be granted a presidential pardon.
“I’m not the type to celebrate people only when they are dead,” said Malema. “Where were those ANC Women’s League people then to say Julius is right, let’s give Mama a presidential pardon? Now they are all pretending to cry for her.”
As in any mother-son relationship, there were also reprimands he had to bear.
One of these occasions was when the EFF co-operated with the DA to take over the City of Johannesburg. “You want to stay in a metro that is led by DA, by an opposition? What are you doing?” she shouted at him.
Malema sought the intervention of EFF chairman Dali Mpofu, who still advised Madikizela-Mandela as a lawyer, to help explain to her why it was necessary to remove the ANC from power in Johannesburg.
When EFF MPs confronted former president Jacob Zuma and were forcibly removed from the National Assembly by parliament’s bouncers, Madikizela-Mandela would call Malema to check if anyone was hurt.
“She never said what we are doing to Zuma is wrong. She wanted Zuma to resign. But she refused to do public statements.”
Malema said the only time he avoided her was when he and Floyd Shivambu decided to form the EFF.
“Much, much later, I went to explain to Mama. She said: ‘Well, you’ve got my blessings. As long as these two streams [the ANC and EFF] will at some point meet . . .’
“She believed that these are two streams flowing in the same direction and that at some point they will converge.”
Malema never asked her to join the EFF and it shocked him when she said “Viva EFF!” at public events.
One of the happiest moments they shared recently was when Madikizela-Mandela attended EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s graduation party. She enjoyed herself so much that Malema, worrying about her health, eventually suggested that she leave.
He was at her bedside when she was in hospital earlier this year, but did not know she had taken ill over the Easter weekend.
Throughout the mourning period, Malema said he felt as if they were preparing for a rally she would address.
“For me it was like a rally. We must not disappoint her. When she comes, she must find the stadium full, she must find everything in order,” said Malema.
“Only when the coffin came into the stadium, I then realised it is not her coming to address any rally. This is the end of it.”
Apart from his campaign to have Cape Town International Airport named after Madikizela-Mandela, Malema also wants her home in Soweto to become a monument.
“We have to take it from here, going forward, knowing that her spirit and her teachings are with us to guide us,” said Malema.
But there is one wish Malema is not sure he can fulfil for his “Ma”.
She wanted him to be president.
“Her wishes may not be realised through occupation of office of the president, but that which she wanted me to do as president can still be done even if I am not the president. That is to fight for her people.”
We just became family. We’d talk about our fears, about things that trouble us politically, particularly her
Iwrite on behalf of the women accused of betraying comrade Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during her tenure as president of the ANC Women’s League. None of us resigned because we were led by a criminal, as purported in the public domain. Yes, we resigned, but it is important to clarify that we did so for different reasons.
It is with great respect to the family that we raise this while we are still mourning our beloved mother and comrade. It is against our culture as Africans to be discussing controversial issues while mourning the departed. It is also saddening that comrade Winnie’s legacy has been hijacked for nefarious reasons, when our culture dictates otherwise. We also feel it is rather unfortunate that lies are being peddled in the name of comrade Winnie as we would have wished her to rest in eternal peace.
The period we went through in the rebuilding of the ANC and the ANC Women’s League was the most difficult. The enemy intensified its inhumane killing machinery and counter-insurgency during this time. Bringing together individuals who had previously played different roles during the unbanning period of the ANC was one of the most complex tasks, but we ultimately succeeded.
It is therefore unfortunate that we are today accused of resigning from the women’s league’s national executive committee because we refused to be led by a criminal and therefore sold comrade Winnie to the enemy. As widely reported, yes we resigned — but for reasons that had nothing to do with her criminal record or lack thereof.
Some of us insisted to the ANC leadership in exile that she be part of the leadership structures of both the
ANC and ANCWL back home. Her participation was important to us because our sole purpose at the time was to rebuild, resuscitate and unite the women.
None of us who resigned ever insinuated or said that comrade Winnie was a criminal. After all, she was never found guilty in any court of law during this time.
Therefore, we had no basis on which to perceive her as a criminal.
We advocated against the isolation of Mama Winnie when the Mass Democratic Movement took the decision to distance itself from her. We instead incorporated her into the task team tasked with rebuilding the women’s league when we got back into the country — we dare say to the irritation of many.
We worked well with comrade Winnie, and this culminated in the first conference of the women’s league in Kimberley in 1991, where she was elected as an additional member of the ANCWL NEC. Throughout this period we successfully united women and established a National Women’s Coalition. This coalition brought together all the women of South Africa and contributed to the drafting of the interim constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
When we went to the second conference of the league, in December 1993, comrade Winnie was elected president of the women’s league. It was after this conference in 1994 that we started experiencing signs of tension emanating from disagreements on how we worked. We sometimes had different views on tactics when addressing certain issues. This is not peculiar to the ANC, or any democratic organisation for that matter. In all our engagements we were raising issues which were beyond personalities yet had far-reaching implications for the women’s league and our cause as an organisation.
At the very first executive committee meeting we were accused of having met in Welkom to plot against comrade Winnie, an accusation that had all the hallmarks of the Stratcom propaganda machinery hellbent on sowing disunity among us by planting misinformation, lies and false accusations about some of us, especially those in the leadership. It was obvious from then on that we were no longer working on the basis of trust, and this had a negative impact on our work as the women’s league.
Instead of paralysing the work of the league, we felt it was the ethical and wise thing for us to resign under the circumstances at the time. Even after resigning, we continued to serve the ANC and women’s league. Our commitment and loyalty to the organisation hasn’t wavered to this day.
We sometimes had different views on tactics when addressing issues