Mama Win­nie, more than any other hero, re­flects SA

The Sunday Independent - - Dispatches - DONO­VAN WIL­LIAMS Will You Be There, Wil­liams is the di­rec­tor of African Af­fairs & Spe­cial Projects at the Na­tional School of Govern­ment.

AFEW years back I met a young cou­ple for drinks. They were one of those su­per cou­ple types. Wife, a pub­lished au­thor, ac­com­plished ac­tress (both stage and tele­vi­sion), and the hus­band an ac­tor (stage, tele­vi­sion and movies). I mar­velled at them and, to be hon­est, se­cretly en­vied their life­style and ca­reer choices.

They were won­der­ful drinks com­pan­ions. They were in love, but did not swoon over each other, mak­ing me feel like a third wheel. More im­por­tantly, they truly sup­ported each other, emo­tion­ally, pro­fes­sion­ally … like best friends. I shud­dered to think if my ex-part­ner and I had met them for drinks. It would have been so easy to pick up how much she de­spised me, and found the sound of my voice worse than the sound of fin­ger­nails be­ing scratched on a school chalk­board.

She had a spe­cial path or short­cut to my place of hurt, and was not scared to use it, any­time. She had the power to hurt me, and she knew it. I won­dered, if ev­ery­one could see how much I yearned for her ap­proval. Not her love, but that she still held me in some type of es­teem, or rather she was not dis­gusted by my mere ex­is­tence!

Maybe I wanted her for­give­ness, that’s prob­a­bly it. Even for the things that I had no con­trol over. Al­though, in my es­ti­ma­tion, she was not there for me, but some­how I hoped that through her un­der­stand­ing of her power over me, and my ac­cep­tance of that power, she would have re­garded that as good enough to for­give and un­der­stand me, in­clud­ing my mis­takes and wrongs.

I’m re­minded of the Michael Jack­son song and he cries out, “In our dark­est hour, in my deep­est de­spair, will you still care? Will you be there? In my tri­als and tribu­la­tions, through our doubts and frus­tra­tions. In my vi­o­lence, in my tur­bu­lence, through my fears and my con­fes­sions. In my an­guish and my pain, through my joy and my sor­row, in the prom­ise of an­other tomorrow.”

All of these emo­tions and thoughts are scut­tling around my full empty mind, with the pass­ing of Mama Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela. There has been so much of white noise. Be­fore, you think that this is di­rected at white peo­ple, just note that white noise means “noise con­tain­ing many fre­quen­cies with equal in­ten­si­ties”.

In all of my en­coun­ters with Madik­izela-Man­dela, one has never un­der­stood her to be some con­flicted in­di­vid­ual. She did not hide her­self from ei­ther critic or sooth­sayer. Her opin­ion was not lost among the in­ten­sity of others. She was not loud and not crass. She was as­sertive, she did not tol­er­ate any weak­lings, and feared no one, not even Nel­son Man­dela or Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu.

But for some rea­son or the other, the in­ten­sity of the opin­ions on Madik­izela-Man­dela has been white noise. It drowns out so many things about her. It does not give me a chance to grieve. It does not give me a chance to mourn. It does not give me a chance to cel­e­brate Mama Win­nie. And that’s when I started to think about the re­la­tion­ship between Nel­son and Win­nie. Not the re­la­tion­ship prior to his im­pris­on­ment, but the re­la­tion­ship upon his re­lease.

Even be­fore his re­lease, Madiba was a hero. The coun­try feared him, the lib­er­a­tion move­ment ven­er­ated him, and the peo­ple were in awe of him. And in my opin­ion, they ex­pected Win­nie to not just stand by him but, as ugly as this sounds, they ex­pected Win­nie to go through the halls of hell in sup­port of him. Such that her ban­ish­ment to Brand­fort, her 491 days of soli­tary con­fine­ment, the phys­i­cal tor­ture and in­hu­mane treat­ment, were taken as ex­pected.

I must ad­mit, I was one of those heart­less chau­vin­ist ac­tivists who ex­pected her to be tor­tured be­cause of her love for Madiba. If she had given in to them, I would not have for­given her. Madiba, de­served no less.

But I be­lieve that upon Madiba’s re­lease and the re­sump­tion of their mar­riage, it was Mama Win­nie with the power, not him. He may have been a colos­sus on the world stage. He may have had a gaze that forced the apartheid pres­i­dent to blink. But when it came to him and Win­nie, she was the one with power.

She stood by him when it would have been eas­ier to play the role of the weak wife in sup­port of the strug­gle. She ex­uded his power when he was break­ing rocks on Robben Is­land.

Like my ex-part­ner, there was noth­ing wrong with Mama Win­nie, she did noth­ing wrong. In her weak­est mo­ments, she had more power than most peo­ple in South Africa, she was just tired of car­ry­ing a strong, pow­er­ful man. And for all his power, he had no idea how to sac­ri­fice his ego to en­sure that he re­cip­ro­cated the sac­ri­fices she made for him.

Mama Win­nie, more than any other lib­er­a­tion hero, re­flects South Africa, and how we need a shoul­der just to cry on, so that our dig­nity can be re­stored, with­out us beg­ging to be treated like equal hu­man be­ings.





HIS ROBE opened. He smelled like cigar and espresso and his body odour. Here was Amer­ica’s Dad on top of me, a hap­pily mar­ried man with five chil­dren, on top of me. – For­mer model Jan­ice Dick­in­son telling a jury on Thurs­day that she could still re­mem­ber Bill Cosby’s smell from an en­counter with him in a Lake Ta­hoe ho­tel room in 1982. She had gone there to meet him, she said, but was feel­ing woozy from a pill he gave her for men­strual cramps.

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