Tributes pour in for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the woman who won

Tributes are pouring in for freedom fighter and anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela following the news of her passing on April 2 2018 at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg after long illness.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela turned 80 in 2016. She died on April 2 2018 after long illness. Photo: GCIS

Winnie was irreversibly thrust into the anti-apartheid struggle when she was part of the October 21 1958 march in Johannesburg against passes led by Lilian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu, among other leaders. She witnessed first-hand the appalling conditions under which more than 2000 women were jailed.

Sanef chair Mahlatse Mahlase said the tributes honour her for the sacrifices and selflessness Winnie showed under the long and brutal cruelty meted to her by the apartheid regime.

“I think she was one of the most haunted and hunted by the apartheid regime. The fact is that she had to spend time in solitude and was banished to a rural place where she didn’t know anybody. I think that’s why there is an overwhelming expression of who she is,” Mahlatse said.

Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was born on September 26 1936 in Mbizana in the former Transkei. The region is no stranger to women who defied traditional conventions of leadership and gender.

A few centuries ago a woman named Mamani assumed the Kingship of the AmaMpondomise nation and successfully overcame all opposition that discounted her leadership because of her gender. She ruled all the land between the Drakensberg and Mthatha.

Mahlatse says women whom history thrusts into powerful leadership roles are often denied their political agency.

“She was also politically aware of the system and agreed that apartheid needed to be broken down,” she added.

Women across the world are inspired by the resilience Madikizela Mandela displayed throughout her many years of anti-apartheid activism.

Poet Claire Schwartz tweeted a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks from her 1991 anthology titled Winnie.

Contested legacy

Winnie’s long political legacy remains contested. Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird says what makes her so interesting is that she has always been a controversial figure.

“Because she was always inside and outside of the ANC she would frequently take positions that go against the grain. I think that was probably one of her strengths,” Bird said.

He said often when icons pass away people tend not to want to highlight and remember all of the bad things about them. Instead understanding some of the people’s critiques of her is important.

Author and freelance journalist Ufrieda Ho said what is astonishing about Winnie was her ability to reinvent herself at such an advanced age.

“There were problems, we know that. For me the big one is around a young 14-year-old activist and the justice for him,

“We can’t ignore truth and her dark side as well. You’ve got to remember what role she played even now for South Africans,” Ufrieda said.

To Mahlatse Mahlase the important thing to take from Winnie’s legacy is the spectacular failure of the resources pumped into the effort to silence her. She spent 491 days in solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison after the May 12 1961 arrest.

“Today she stands as the woman who won.”

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