POLITICS
16/04/2018 04:52 SAST | Updated 16/04/2018 04:58 SAST

The Meaning Of Mourning: How Death Resurrected The Ideas Of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

The last 10 days have seen homage being paid to a struggle figure, but also a descent into silencing and lynching.

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A portrait of anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is displayed on stage during her funeral at the Orlando Stadium in the township of Soweto, concluding 10 days of national mourning on April 14, 2018, in Johannesburg.

ANALYSIS

Both Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had official mourning periods of almost 14 days apiece and both of these times became global moments.

But while Mandela's was a farewell to a statesman, Madikizela-Mandela's has become a political phenomenon that has come to give expression to important political shifts in South Africa. Both funerals were international events and while Mandela's was more of an occasion of state, Madikizela-Mandela's funeral had swag radicalism. From supermodel Naomi Campbell to the US civil rights luminary Jesse Jackson, Madikizela-Mandela was claimed as an international figure of resistance.

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Firebrand opposition politician Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, speaks during the funeral of anti-apartheid champion Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, at the Orlando Stadium in the township of Soweto, concluding 10 days of national mourning on April 14, 2018, in Johannesburg. South Africans turned out in their thousands to bid final goodbyes to anti-apartheid icon and Nelson Mandela's former wife who was laid to rest with full state honours. Winnie Mandela, who died in Johannesburg aged 81 on April 2 after a long illness, has been celebrated for helping keep Nelson Mandela's dream of a non-racial South Africa alive while he was behind bars for 27 years. / AFP PHOTO / WIKUS DE WET (Photo credit should read WIKUS DE WET/AFP/Getty Images)

For two weeks now, Madikizela-Mandela has been everywhere; her defiant speeches filled the ears of a new generation and grainy old television footage has shown her confronting apartheid's police officers and judges giving impetus to a new resistance.

Malema rises as Winnie's political son

At her funeral on Sunday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema took over her mantle. He played the role of the son at the funeral, speaking straight after her daughter Zenani and made a speech that staked a claim for himself as a leader. First, he put former president Jacob Zuma in political exile by refusing to acknowledge him; then he made it clear that all that stood between his "red sea" and President Cyril Ramaphosa being booed was his saying so and, finally, he drove home how he controls a new national narrative.

Next year's election will determine whether the EFF has grown its support base significantly, but what is undoubted is that it is setting a national agenda.

WIKUS DE WET via Getty Images
Members of the South African military carry the coffin of anti-Apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela Mandela during her funeral at the Orlando Stadium, in the township of Soweto, concluding 10 days of national mourning on April 14, 2018, in Johannesburg. South Africans turned out in their thousands to bid final goodbyes to the anti-apartheid icon and Nelson Mandela's former wife who was laid to rest with full state honours. Winnie Mandela, who died in Johannesburg aged 81 on April 2 after a long illness, has been celebrated for helping keep Nelson Mandela's dream of a non-racial South Africa alive while he was behind bars for 27 years. / AFP PHOTO / WIKUS DE WET (Photo credit should read WIKUS DE WET/AFP/Getty Images)

And, in labelling Madikizela-Mandela's erstwhile critics from the mass democratic movement as "sell-outs", Malema gave voice to a significant body of opinion in the ANC and in the matriarch's family who are still bitter at her ostracisation and marginalisation by the governing party after it took office.

Of all the political messages at Madikizela-Mandela's funeral, it was Malema's call for the expropriation of land without compensation and for the nationalisation of mines and banks, which won sustained applause. Across both the ANC and the EFF, this new radicalism is being amplified and the death of Madikizela-Mandela has moved politics away from Ramaphosa's centre to the left. It has reintroduced the politics of the firebrand and the burning platform: both Malema and Madikizela-Mandela represent this popular and populist trend where South Africa is presented as a country of postcolonial crisis, one that has never shaken off its apartheid past and that is in need of a radical and nationalist platform.

To wit, our biggest conversations today are about curtailing the power of capital, expanding the national wage and expropriating land without compensation. If you listen carefully, the land expropriation debate is really a synonym for much larger wealth expropriation.

WIKUS DE WET via Getty Images
TOPSHOT - African National Congress (ANC) Women's League members attend the funeral of anti-apartheid icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, at the Orlando Stadium in the township of Soweto, concluding 10 days of national mourning on April 14, 2018, in Johannesburg. South Africans turned out in their thousands to bid final goodbyes to the anti-apartheid icon and Nelson Mandela's former wife who was laid to rest with full state honours. Winnie Mandela, who died in Johannesburg aged 81 on April 2 after a long illness, has been celebrated for helping keep Nelson Mandela's dream of a non-racial South Africa alive while he was behind bars for 27 years. / AFP PHOTO / WIKUS DE WET (Photo credit should read WIKUS DE WET/AFP/Getty Images)

Between woundedness and healing

South Africa is still a live wound in the politics of Malema and Madikizela-Mandela to which President Cyril Ramaphosa inserted the idea of healing. You can't stay wounded, he responded at the funeral on Saturday; we have to heal.

But South Africa's more seductive and resonant story is of woundedness. The president acknowledged as much when he said that South Africa is a country damaged by its past, numbed by its present and hesitant about its future.

The negotiation of that future took political form in the 12 days South Africa stopped to mourn a woman now buried as the mother of the nation.

In memorialising Madikizela-Mandela, she has also been represented as a cross between Mother Theresa (the social worker; the missionary) and Angela Davis (the enigmatic revolutionary and soldier). In the final sermon ahead of the full military procession that took her to a final rest, the priest said that, in death, her ideas had been moved from "containment to amplification". This was given popular expression in the viral slogan that said: "She didn't die. She multiplied."

Rogan Ward / Reuters
People pay their respects as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's funeral cortege leaves for the burial site after her funeral service in Soweto, South Africa April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Along the route from Orlando stadium to her Fourways burial ground, crowds lined the streets as they had for the days of mourning of Mandela. She was buried with full military honours and, finally, she will be made Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe, the bequeathal of the ANC's highest status to its revolutionary guard.

A blaze of doek glory

There is one more important trend that has emerged in the past 10 days – a new feminism cast, literally, in the image of Madikizela-Mandela. Social media have burst into doek glory as women across the nation emulated her classic look – a dress (black for mourning) with a beautifully wrapped scarf. It has been beautiful to watch seas of women, fists held high in defiance and memory.

What it represents is still nascent, but what it could be a new women's movement cast in the mould of #MeToo – the global uprising against sexual harassment. Its expression in South Africa is an uprising against patriarchy and the powerful suggestion of a new constituency that no political party will be able to ignore as we head into preparations for the general election of 2019.

It has been a grand reclamation of Madikizela-Mandela insisted upon largely by black women across parties, classes and generations. But it is a reclamation not without its own wounds.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the Orlando stadium in Soweto, South Africa April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Silencing

Anybody who tried to raise the ghosts of Madikizela-Mandela was roughly silenced and in that silencing, a disservice was paid to the memories of Stompie Seipei, Lolo Sono and Dr Abu Asvat, all people who died in the dark period when the Mandela United Football Club stopped playing ball according to the rules. Madikizela-Mandela did not kill them, of course, and she has never been implicated or so judged, but those deaths are now consigned to an inconvenient historical footnote of which we may not speak.

And when the EFF took up Madikizela-Mandela's story about journalists who had been in the pay of the security branch's propaganda campaign called Stratcom, it started a lynch mob keen on claiming scalps without proof and often in personal prejudice. Many who were still at school when Stratcom played its bag of dirty tricks were named and shamed as part of the 40 names the EFF now says it will pipette out as they wish. Two journalists who did more than most to expose Stratcom and apartheid's other third forces were digitally tarred and feathered.

The meaning of Madikizela-Mandela's mourning has proved an important reckoning with the past and an important returning to her of the stature that was deservedly hers. Less gloried is the descent into silencing and lynching, two subthemes that have emerged in an important 10 days dedicated to a legend who was also fallibly human.