As the passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was reported around the world, her portrayal in the media was once again highlighted, as South Africans raged against mainly international reportage painting her as a villain.
Several major international news outlets framed their coverage as if Madikizela-Mandela was an icon whose faults ultimately overshadowed her achievements as an anti-apartheid activist. Allegations against her, particularly in relation to the death of Stompie Seipei, were repeated around the world, and many South Africans on social media felt this did not do justice to the struggle icon's legacy.
There was also outrage at how Madikizela-Mandela was characterised as "merely the former wife" of Nelson Mandela, and at how male struggle icons are not described as "complex", as she was.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whose fight against apartheid was later overshadowed by scandal, has died at 81 https://t.co/1CsDdgTHI8— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 2, 2018
Winnie Mandela, 'mother' then 'mugger' of new South Africa, dies at 81 https://t.co/Wgkx8lHkog— Reuters World (@ReutersWorld) April 2, 2018
The life of Winnie Mandela, a controversial anti-apartheid political icon https://t.co/Upw6nmGpZh— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) April 2, 2018
The BBC carried an obituary of Madikizela-Mandela in which the opening paragraph detailed allegations that she hung on to the Mandela surname for political gain.
Before mentioning her contribution to the struggle against apartheid, the obituary's opening lines read:
"For decades she and her then-husband, the iconic Nelson Mandela, were the country's most famous political couple - but Mr Mandela divorced her in 1996. After their separation she kept his surname and they maintained ties, leading to critics accusing her of attempting to use his name for political mileage. In later life her reputation later became tainted by a fraud conviction and murder accusations, which she denied."
Many pointed out that this was not the way her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela's death was reported.
Why this headline? She is an African revolutionary, a freedom fighter! This is beyond offensive to her legacy which is complex but still respected by most Africans! Please desist!— KriolaMommyScholar (@DrTLimaNeves) April 2, 2018
STOP this headline! STOP it! South Africans are tired if this shitty headline.— Irene #TuJadili (@TuJadili) April 2, 2018
So your bile for Africans and African women must follow Winnie Mandela to the grave? You guys just don't let up.— Dr Wandia (@wmnjoya) April 2, 2018
Please correct your headline. We mourn an icon of our liberation. She was the Mother of our Nation. She wasn't a saint, she was an REVOLUTIONARY!— Sunny the Solar Guy! (@sunnyboymorgan) April 2, 2018
I hate how u portray Our Struggle icon Winnie Mandela, adding unnecessary words in ur reporting. Is this the kind of hurdle that all black people must endure (bias reporting) whilst (white) Pornstars, rock & Rollers die with so much grace & are elevated to Super stardom @nytimes— Tshepo_Matutle (@Being_tshepo) April 2, 2018
There was also much unhappiness on social media with how Madikizela-Mandela was classified in the international press.
Hello, global media. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was not an "anti-apartheid campaigner."— Shailja Patel (@shailjapatel) April 2, 2018
She was not "Mandela's ex-wife."
She was a LEADER OF SOUTH AFRICA'S LIBERATION STRUGGLE.#Winnie
Many South Africans also pointed out that there were holes in the allegations against Madikizela-Mandela, particularly in relation to her alleged involvement in the murder of Stompie Seipei. They also pointed out that the apartheid regime had used the allegations to paint Madikizela-Mandela as a murderer, and to distance her from the anti-apartheid movement.
Every time we celebrate & honour Mama Winnie Mandela there's always those that bring up that she killed or ordered the killing of 14 year old Stompie Seipei / Moeketsi (RIP)— KatlehoMK 🇿🇦 (@KatlehoMK) March 22, 2018
This thread of videos will shed some light on the matter & clear her name.#WinnieMandela pic.twitter.com/vGOzEm93Qh
3. The murder of Stompie was used to divide and destabilize the Black community. Winnie Mandela was blamed for the murder that even the UDF/MDM distanced themselves from her. The apartheid government exploited the narrative to turn the Black community against Winnie Mandela. pic.twitter.com/QIojYamgvt— KatlehoMK 🇿🇦 (@KatlehoMK) March 22, 2018
Mam' Winnie also spoke about black women having to fight tradition and culture at home and apartheid at the same time. It follows that her strong feminist views have been erased because the patriarchy before & after apartheid didn't like that.— Gugulethu Mhlungu (@GugsM) April 2, 2018
The most accurate portrayal of Madikizela-Mandela was in a recent documentary, not the news headlines, tweeted @africaisacountry.
If you want to learn about Winnie Mandela's life, switch off the TV news and don't read the obituaries by old white men still fighting the Cold War or Apartheid's War against Winnie. Instead watch "Winnie" directed by Pascale Lamche. It's on Netflix.https://t.co/aeuzxRrFqy— IG: @Africasacountry (@africasacountry) April 2, 2018
Many were also angered by the constant referrals to her as Nelson Mandela's ex-wife.
To fight for your people's freedom & suffer greatly for it, to spend the rest of your life in service of them and then when you die, you are described as a man's second wife. It's disrespectful and sexist. https://t.co/WHT0sNTk9C— Your Woke Aunty (@YasminYonis) April 2, 2018
South Africans on social media also pointed out that Madikizela-Mandela was complex, but that many men considered heroes of the struggle were not defined by their complexity.
This apposition, 'she/they were not perfect' annoys me to no end. 'They', 'she' were human so it's trite pointing out that there was no perfection. But the real intention here is to 'footnote' and perpetuate a kind of slanderous subtext about Winnie in particular #WinnieMandela https://t.co/6LNQoSUZmp— ntu (@Ba_ntu) April 2, 2018
South Africans also asked for the space to mourn Madikizela-Mandela, and for those critical of her to save their comments for another day.
People who know nothing about the suffering of #WinnieMadikizelaMandela and her people -our parents and great grand parents- must refrain from passing comments on this valiant soldier in the struggle for the justice they denied us after robbing us of our birthright— SikonathiMantshantsh (@SikonathiM) April 2, 2018
I have a request for all. Today is a moment of grief for many. Can we do so with dignity? Those who have nothing positive to say, be silent. Those who want to honour Winnie, do so. No one should respond to racism with further racism. We fight tomorrow. Today we mourn with dignity.— Adam Habib (@AdHabb) April 2, 2018