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Finally, A Documentary On Winnie Madikizela-Mandela That's NOT About Her Sanctified Ex-Husband

The film forgets to mention many conflicting stories and controversies around her, but that might be for the better.

06/06/2017 13:34 SAST | Updated 08/06/2017 11:28 SAST

In a newsroom I once worked, the editor suggested that Madikizela-Mandela guest edit an edition of our newspaper. Black journalists sat quietly as a slew of emails from our white, women colleagues, in particular, outlined their incredulity at having the woman accused of killing 12-year-old Stompie Seipei in 1988, be associated with our revered paper.

Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of kidnapping Seipei. She appealed a six-year sentence for the crime, which was reduced to a fine and two-year suspended sentence. She denied -- even during an exclusive interview with HuffPost SA on Monday -- that she killed him, and a member of her Mandela Football Club, Jerry Richardson, went to prison and served a sentence for killing the boy.

Attempts to talk in the newsroom about Madikizela-Mandela's complicated character and conflicted choices, which made her an interesting guest editor, fell on deaf ears. It was never spoken of again.

With her documentary, "Winnie", French director Pascale Lamche managed to quell some of the resultant anger and confusion for most of the young, black (women) journalists who looked up to the Mama Winnie we were told about by some of our parents, not the bitter, shady ex-wife of Mandela we read about in newspapers. Copious testimonies and information is offered to counter the narrative that is arguably one of the biggest blemishes on our history.

If I was only allowed to describe the documentary, "Winnie", in one way, it would be that it is delivered much like the freedom fighter herself. It is frank, open, clear, and with very little space to fashion misconceptions about the message it seeks to share.

The 97-minute film begins in 1964, the year her more revered husband Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life. This is the first indicator that the intention behind the film is to treat Mama Winnie's story with a lens it has not often been afforded before and away from the shadow of her sanctified ex.

Woven with stories and anecdotes from mainly Madikizela-Mandela sympathisers, the fruit of Lamche's two-and-a-half-year project aims to change the narrative of the Mama Winnie we know now.

Threading a fine line of Madikizela-Mandela's story, the film reveals few intimate details of her personal life. Her relationship with Dali Mpofu is touched on for the sake of mentioning the explicit love letter between the two that was published in 1992 in an attempt discredit her, We don't hear about anyone else she might have been involved with at that time.

Speaking to the Mother of the Nation's treatment by the media since apartheid and well into the years after 1994, Anne Marie Du Preez Bezdrob, credited with having probably written one of the "better" books on her and criticised more for not being critical enough in it, speaks perhaps a bit too much for an ANC operative who did not want to broker deals with white people, and felt that the ruling party negotiated too much. But Bezdrob may be one of few people who are not part of Madikizela-Mandela's family who understand her character more widely. The only other two people who speak of her positively at length in the movie is her daughter, Zinzi, and her former lover, Mpofu.

This is further amplified by the frequent use of Anton Harber, who was the editor of The Weekly Mail during that tumultuous time in Madikizela-Mandela's life. After watching the documentary for the first time at the premiere on Saturday, Madikizela-Mandela on Monday expressed surprise at the positive things he said about her.

"It was a very respected paper, so if you were on the front page ... and demonised there, you were supposed to be finished," she explained. And she was featured in the paper many times.

If you don't want to believe any of her supporters, Lamche uses former Stratcom head Vic McPherson and ex-national intelligence leader Neils Barnard to reveal all the details -- with heady glee -- about how much state-sponsored propaganda went into separating Madikizela-Mandela from her husband to "work on him".

As the popular Chinese proverb promises, Mama Winnie was born in perhaps the most interesting of times. Murkiness still remains around Stompie's killing, and the film forgets to mention other conflicting stories and controversies around her.

The documentary is a lot less open-ended than Lamche hopes it is. And perhaps that is for the better, as it is one ripple against the tsunami of admitted propaganda against one of the country's most senior ANC anti-apartheid operatives who was forced into the recesses of too many South Africans' minds.

"Winnie" is showing at the Encounters Documentary Festival, and has three final showings at Khayelitsha, Rosebank and the Labia this weekend. Netflix has also bought an 87-minute version of the documentary.