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14/04/2018 14:19 SAST | Updated 14/04/2018 14:19 SAST

Winnie Mandela: Enigmatic Warrior And Conscience of the Voiceless

Soweto provides an important context in the life of Winnie Mandela.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

Winnie Madikizela Mandela's leadership credentials across the world are receiving wider appreciation and magnification, while her flaws have slipped into insignificance.

The point of all the messages of condolences and outpourings of eulogy is reflected in what the Nobel Peace Laureate Wole Soyinka once said: "Humanity must be allowed to make its errors. Indeed errors are the unregistered provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". Across the land we were submerged in a series of memorial services for the woman that is affectionately known as Mama Winnie – Mother of the Nation.

Friends, as well as erstwhile foes, came together to testify, not to the absence of frailty in Mama Winnie's character, but to a certain gravitas, a passionate commitment and courage to face up with the big issues of the time, thus bending the arc of history forever. It was thundered across the breadth and length of the land that Mama Winnie was the personification of courage, a person who rose and met head-on her historical burden.

I arrived in Soweto on Wednesday to monitor the hearts and minds of the grassroots – the people who lived with her most of her life. This is the Soweto I know too well. It is easy to romanticise Soweto from afar, but to enter its belly is another story. I crisscrossed the noisy welding shops, hairdressing salons, mechanic garages, taxi ranks.

Of all the gushing outpourings of encomia for the fallen general, the most stirring tribute that resonated with what I learned from people of Soweto, in my view, came from the Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

Speaking during a memorial at Brandfort where Winnie was banished by the apartheid forces, Patricia de Lille spoke about the woman she knew in close quarters. After touching on the deep heartfelt long and unbroken friendship, De Lille dwelt on one key attribute of Winnie Mandela as a fighter. That she herself learned to fight from Winnie Mandela. That is how De Lille defined politics: as a fight and (as she put it) politics is "not for sissies".

She could have quit. She could have said, this thing is too hard for me, I quit. And then gone on to embrace the normal life of prestige and high class as an educated respected professional black woman. But she did not quit.

I can understand the analogy of politics being a fighting arena. I am an ex-boxer myself. Though boxing is about fighting, it is the friendliest sport. Weeks before the boxing fight begins the two fighters pose in public as friends, and after the fight, they are back again hugging each other with broad smiles.

Winnie Mandela was a victorious fighter, and so are those she defeated. In the general order of politics and boxing, there is a time to fight and a time for the sweet embrace after the fight. There are different ways of fighting in boxing.

Soweto provides an important context in the life of Winne Mandela; it is where she lived with Nelson Mandela. And after Nelson Mandela was banished to Robben Island, she continued to live there most of her life, continuing with the historic mission of liberation.

And the more she continued with the fight for liberation, the harder it became and for sure, hopelessness, despair and doubt crept in and caught up with her. She could have quit. She could have said, this thing is too hard for me, I quit. And then gone on and embraced the normal life of prestige and high class as an educated respected professional black woman.

But she did not quit.

Winnie Mandela is physically dead, but her spirit is still with us, and it will continue to fill the hearts of those she touched and whom she allowed to touch her in return. My journey into Soweto attests that fact.

May her soul rest in peace.