Juju stokes the fires
Malema leads the charge for Winnie’s legacy at her funeral
AS THE world paid homage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela yesterday, leaders of various political parties in the country tried to outsmart each other in paying tributes to the liberation icon, in what seemed a jockeying for her legacy. This was as they tried to gain relevance, and political mileage out of the official funeral of Madikizela-Mandela, who died on April 2.
EFF leader Julius Malema appeared to live up to his self-styled image as the kingmaker, calling on the governing ANC to name Cape Town International Airport after Madikizela-Mandela.
Malema tore into the ANC and leaders of other political formations as he sought to remind them that they had turned their backs on the “Mother of the Nation”. He said naming Cape Town’s airport after Madikizela-Mandela would be a fitting way to demonstrate their commitment to honouring her legacy.
The firebrand EFF leader, who had a close relationship with Madikizela-Mandela, referred to her fondly as “mama” during his address. Their bond goes back to his days as the leader of the ANC Youth League.
Malema had led a delegation of thousands of EFF members and supporters, which he called “the red wave”, who were resplendent in their signature colour, and were seated among ANC supporters. He said individuals who had stood against Madikizela-Mandela in the early 1990s were now mourning her death.
“Equally big Mama, some of those who sold you to the regime are here and are crying louder than all of us who stood by you.
“The UDF cabal that distanced itself from you is here, crying crocodile tears after disowning you at a critical moment, hoping the regime will finish you off,” Malema told the thousands of mourners at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
He was referring to the time when she was accused of being involved in young activist Stompie Seipei’s death. The icon was later cleared of this charge.
“All those who resigned from the NEC of the Women’s League because they said they can’t be led by a criminal, they are here playing all-important roles at your funeral. Can we trust them or should we treat them with suspicion maWinnie?” he asked to loud applause.
The funeral was attended by international dignitaries, including supermodel Naomi Campbell and several heads of states.
Malema reminded the mourners that Madikizela-Mandela fought against apartheid fearlessly.
Seemingly not to be outdone, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Madikizela-Mandela would be posthumously bestowed with the ANC’s highest honour, the Isithwalandwe-Seapar ankoe.
“I will make a proposal to the ANC national executive committee to bestow on you its highest honour,” Ramaphosa said to thunderous applause from the packed stadium, not far from Madikizela-Mandela’s home in Orlando West.
Ramaphosa conceded, while delivering his eulogy, that the country and his party had failed to honour and support Madikizela-Mandela while she was facing a vicious “smear campaign” by the apartheid regime’s agents and spies. His admission came after apartheid agents openly admitted that they were responsible for the negative media reports and accusations that Madikizela-Mandela was involved in the murder of Seipei.
“She suffered alone,” Ramaphosa told thousands of mourners who arrived at the Orlando Stadium to pay their last respects to the Struggle icon.
The president also told the mourners about the governing party’s Top Six first encounter with Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter, Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, following the confirmation of their mother’s death at the Milpark Hospital in Joburg.
“The day after she died, the ANC’s Top Six leaders went to her home to pay our condolences to her family.
“Zenani’s tears revealed Mam’ Winnie’s wounds,” Ramaphosa said.
According to him, Madikizela-Mandela was left to tend to her “wounds” on her own for the rest of her life.
“Left alone to fend for herself only caused her more pain.
Earlier, ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe committed the ANC to completing the delayed refurbishing of Madikizela-Mandela’s home in Brandfort in the Free State, to which the apartheid government banished her for nearly a decade, between 1977 and 1986.
The ANC and in particular its secretary-general, Ace Magashule, have come under severe criticism following Madikizela-Mandela’s death for failing to deliver their promise to convert the house into a museum, despite millions of rand having been budgeted since the project was announced years ago.
ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Malusi Gigaba acknowledged that there could be a jostle for the ownership of Mama Winnie’s legacy, but asserted that the ANC did not have to do so.
“She was an ANC member right from the onset to her final days. We welcome the fact that the leadership of the ANC are embraced by the rest of society, Gigaba told The Sunday Independent.
Opposition party leaders joined the chorus of people, who mourned Madikizela-Mandela’s death, as well as exalting her legacy.
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi spoke at her memorial service at Orlando Stadium on Wednesday, while DA leader delivered a moving tribute on behalf of his party through a statement.
Yesterday, Nomvula Mokonyane, fellow ANC NEC member also contended that her party was not worried about the appropriation of Mama Winnie’s legacy by other parties, including Malema.
“In fact, it is in Mama’s character that you will find this sort of integration and participation of everybody. “Mama was embraced by many, while others assume that she was hated by many .... They vilified her and thought they would defeat Mama.”
‘RARELY can there have been someone who was called to greatness,” read one obituary I woke up to in London on April 3, “and yet failed that calling so decisively as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.”
Obituaries are filed by the media and dusted off at a moment’s notice in the event of sudden requirements. This was co-written by a man who died in 2016. “In Harlem, they call her ‘the Queen of Africa’, in South Africa ‘The Mother of the Nation’,” he wrote, “but she was neither, her reputation mired in murder and fraud.”
I thought of the screenings I’ve presented of the film Winnie, in Harlem and London and so many other towns and cities around the world, and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Winnie’s story and then my thoughts returned to the smug, complacent condemnation of her life’s work, so entrenched in the world’s media.
Was I going to have to travel the world, engaging all who would come, look and listen, while others wielded the powers of a simple, damning obituary to define Winnie’s legacy?
To mark the sad and dignified passing of Mama Winnie, the international media treated us to earlier writings, a palimpsest of the half-baked and the entrenched, layered with old fake news.
Rushed journalists unwittingly fed from the same pool of the oftrepeated and vintage rumour that echoed with the comforting ring of “common knowledge”.
Every headline sought some kind of safety in the questionable notion of “balance”: let us credit her for the love she inspired but remind our readers, our viewers, that of course, this lady went bad. Worse still, had she not been a menace, stirring conflict in a society undergoing a miraculous transition under the stewardship of rather saintly men?
I wasn’t the only one affronted by these intransigent, seemingly immutable narratives, by this cynical branding exercise.
Had no one been listening to security agent Paul Erasmus of the Stratcom unit, in his first declaration to the TRC in 1997, when he admitted “turning out a mass of disinformation and negative propaganda” against her?
He explained that President Mandela was the “obvious target” but that his impeccable integrity made it difficult. His wife, of course, was a different matter.
Erasmus’s concerted efforts relied on “rumours and the media” to smear her with an unending stream of made-up stories relating to drink, drugs, nervous breakdowns and keeping an open bed for numerous and indiscriminate lovers.
I expect that it was difficult to hear those inklings of a deeper and darker reality at work in the heady days of rainbows and miracles. And I wonder, as with all fairy tales, did the story need a Wicked Person to expunge all the violence of the Struggle for freedom?
History is pockmarked with the treatment meted out to women who have gone against the grain: traditional healers, naysayers and activists with minds of their own.
I found myself listening a lot to Charlie Mingus’s brilliant album, The Black Saint and the Sinner
Lady, during the making of the film Winnie. It chimed with what Zindzi Mandela had said to me: “They tried to pitch my parents like the saint and The movement entitled of Love, Pain and Passioned Revolt, then Farewell my Beloved, till It's Freedom Day seemed prescient in 1963, with Madiba in jail, handled over by the CIA and the struggle of teh Rivonia Trial engaged, with Robben Island still ahead. It was on the steps of the court house where Accused Number One, Nelson Mandela, and his comrades had been condemned for life, that in 1964 Winnie first entered the global frame.
Her clear-headed, charismatic, gentle-voiced rebuttals to the loaded questions by the BBC’s Robin Day were a triumph of politics over emotion. She was so young and so brilliant, a “fitting wife” for a great nationalist leader.
Mingus’s complex jazz brought me closer also to my late partner, Peter Makurube, who’d stirred things up in the beginning for me.
He took me to meet Zindzi and encouraged us to talk to one another. “Make that film! Dig deep!” he insisted, “Contextualise.”
Peter was convinced that only a combination of outsider eyes and insider sympathy and the perspective of a woman’s experience could cut through the hoary bough and dense bramble surrounding a sleeping truth.
Many viewers in South Africa will by now have seen or heard of the film we made with the support of the Arts and Culture Department and the National Film and Video Foundation, for which we are deeply thankful. Some will have been at the Encounters premiere last year, which ended with a standing ovation for Mama Winnie.
Having watched the film for the first time, surrounded by a large audience in Johannesburg, she found herself in a state of shock and awed relief, she told me.
She recognised herself in a film for the first time, she said. She had an inkling of what her legacy might become. I met the former director of Stratcom, Vic McPherson, in his sunlit garden. He sat politely telling me about things like psychological warfare and people being hanged after their trade unions and political organisations had been infiltrated by his black agents – and I marvelled inwardly at what Hannah Arendt had once called “the banality of evil”. And once our camera was packed safely away, in his enthusiasm to share just how far out of the shadows my interested attention was encouraging him to step, he added a chilling rider: “I was the one who sent Ruth First the letter-bomb,” he said, with a chuckle. “Of course it was meant for her husband.”
All these wives, targeted in lieu of their husbands. All these wives, who had great political agency of their own and paid for it so dearly.
There is much work still to do. So much that didn’t fit into one feature-length film, so much already gathered that I had no space for – wonderful stories by Hotstix Mabuse, Pal Martins and others.
And a clearer explanation of what drove Jerry Richardson, a key informant of the Security Branch in the 1980s, to kill poor Stompie Sepei.
We are planning more. What I hope the existing film shows is that South Africa, in that critical time when the future was being negotiated, would have benefited from the joint visions of Winnie and Nelson Mandela. “She was that wake-up factor,” Zindzi says in the film. Her parents shared a common goal with different perspectives.
They were a real power couple: he a global icon and sage politician, she with her ears and instincts, a little closer to the ground. But it was an idea that many feared at the time, the radical idea that together, in their party, the nation’s fate might be in safe hands.
And if there’s a message in the film it’s this: the notion and reality of “apartheid” was what was in question and at fault in those critical years from 1985-1997 which I explore in the film.
Apartheid. That system which engineered the separating and dividing and dehumanisation of people in the exercise of economic and political power.
And to effectively oppose the long-term, nefarious consequences of apartheid, togetherness was what was needed. Togetherness, in the face of the messiness of transition. Some of that messiness was good: the complexity and diversity of South Africa – and some of it was very damaging: the racial, sexual and economic inequalities that disfigure our world.
I hope that the joint legacy of Winnie and Nelson Mandela will be a constant reminder to all of the core principles of the Freedom Charter of 1955, a progressive charter for social justice and greater equality, in a nation damaged by a long history guided by a quite different moral compass.
MOVING: British supermodel Naomi Campbell gave an emotional tribute to Struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at her funeral at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto yesterday.
RESPECT: A guard salutes the Mother of the Nation’s coffin on display at the stadium.
BIRTHDAY HUGS: Nelson Mandela, centre, is flanked by his wife, Graça Machel, left, and his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, right, at his 86th birthday party in Qunu in the Eastern Cape in 2004.
GRIEF: Winnie’s daughters, Zenani and Zindzi Mandela, at their mother’s memorial service at Orlando Stadium.
2016 CELEBRATION: Before her 80th birthday concert, laid on by Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbuli, Winnie saluted the ANC and EFF.