A remarkable life

By Carol Butcher

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away earlier this week. Affectionately known as “the mother of the nation,” Winnie Mandela was a controversial figure. Adored by millions, feared by some, she was respected by all for her courage as a leader.

I first ‘encountered’ Mandela as a teenager. My mother subscribed to a women’s magazine, and I can clearly recall reading an article about Winnie Mandela. Up until this point, all I knew about her was the fact that she was married to struggle icon, Nelson Mandela.

I was very impressed by her courage, her willingness to stand up for what she believed in, and for the huge personal sacrifices she had made. She had given up a scholarship to study in the US, preferring to remain in South Africa and work as a medial social worker at Baragwaneth Hospital. She had been detained on numerous occasions, placed under house arrest and placed in solitary confinement for many months, and banished to Brandfort. She had been separated from her children and her husband was incarcerated. Winnie Mandela had made huge personal sacrifices for the struggle.

As a young, gullible, idealistic teenager, I couldn’t understand why state security services considered her such a threat. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t using her strengths, her leadership talent to build a better South Africa. However, I could never understand how Mandela could condone necklacing – “With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate our country,” nor the events which led to the death of Stompie Moeketsi. Her conviction of theft and fraud in 2003 was also a huge disappointment.

There were however, many highlights and many remarkable achievements. Mention must be made of the local clinics that she organised, and her campaigning for equal rights. She was the President of the ANC Women’s League and she was also the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1998.

Following her resignation from leadership positions in the ANC, including her parliamentary seat and the Presidency of the ANC Women’s League, some may have “written her off.” A friend in the media said: “We had not heard the last of Winne Mandela. She is South Africa’s Eva Peron. She is adored by millions.”

Peter’s words rang true. When the ANC announced the election of its National Executive Committee in 2007, Winnie Mandela garnered the most votes. In the 2009 election was placed fifth on the ANC’s electoral list, behind Jacob Zuma. Even at the time of her death, she remained a very influential political figure.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela led a remarkable life. She has earned the title “struggle icon.” She will be missed by millions of South Africans.

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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.


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