The memorial lecture to honour former president Nelson Mandela in Limpopo this week sparked a furious outburst from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, not to mention numerous catfights within the ANC. How sad that this is what the life of our great national hero has come to – power struggles and commercialism.
This week, reports started leaking out that ‘mother of the nation’ and ANC stalwart Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela wrote a scathing letter to the party, stating in no uncertain terms her displeasure at the “shabby treatment” of herself and the “abuse” of the Mandela name in recent times. Ouch.
This was in response to an invitation by ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu to discuss the logistics of her involvement in the ANC presidential memorial lecture – a tribute to Nelson Mandela by President Jacob Zuma at Shayandima in Limpopo.
Well, the genuine reasons for Winnie’s hissy-fit are debatable. Some say they are more sinister than the tantrums of a political has-been, and I’m inclined to agree. I myself share her concern about the disrespect to the name of Mandela, not only by the ANC, but also by other unscrupulous charlatans. Madiba deserves a more dignified celebration than the commercialised circus his birthday has become, after all.
Imagine if the following story were true.
As part of its centenary celebrations, the ANC has chosen to commemorate the lives of its 12 presidents through a series of lectures to be delivered by the current president, Jacob Zuma. Tuesday, 10 July 2012, was to be the lecture dedicated to the most loved and perhaps the most influential ANC president and first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson R. Mandela.
Naturally, the anticipation for this particular lecture had reached delirious levels, not only because of the eminence of the subject, but also because of the political shenanigans surrounding the ANC’s internal power struggles.
You see, the location at which the lecture was to be delivered is itself a point of political controversy within the ANC’s contemporary politics. This is because Shayandima is in Thohoyandou, in the Limpopo Province, and is expelled former Youth League president – and Zuma arch-nemesis – Julius Malema’s supposed stronghold. It had been anticipated that Julius Malema’s supporters would demonstrate against Zuma on this occasion. But it would have been unthinkable for the president to have the lecture somewhere else, given its high profile, the opportunity to demonstrate his fearless presidential reach, and most importantly, to use it as a rallying call for his supporters in the province and elsewhere.
Talk about infantile pissing contests.
As expected, they (Julius’ supporters) tried to disturb proceedings, but were summarily klapped and ejected by the Umkhonto Wesizwe (the spear of the nation) veterans’ security detail deployed at the gathering. (Yes, JZ had the bigger spear this time.)
Mam’ Winnie is a known Julius ally; some have suggested that this is because of her compulsive anti-establishment streak and not because of any genuine ideological principle. Be that as it may, she does have a penchant for auspicious occasions and enjoys being seen and associated with power. Hey, who doesn’t? And because of her association with the unpopular factions of the party and the fact that she has not been attending parliamentary sessions of late, she has fallen out of favour. Tokyo Sexwale tried to elevate her profile by making her “the minister of toilets”. Sadly, that didn’t float. Perhaps that is why she may have been feeling a little sidelined, hence the “letter” to Jackson.
So, all things considered, the occasion of the commemoration of her ex-husband would have been the ideal and most appropriate time to parade in peacock-like splendour as is befitting the “queen of the struggle.” It was not to be.
Knowing that Mam’ Winnie harboured some ill-feeling towards JZ and his posse, and that she is uncomfortably chummy with the “inconvenient youth” – which meant there was a risk that she could misbehave at the lecture – the Gwede strategy machine went into overdrive and set up a series of ingenious snares for Umama. Firstly, the memorial lecture’s legitimacy had to be above reproach, and so there had to be an unquestionable presence of the legitimate Mandela family.
Gwede then ordered the invitation of Dikela Mandela, granddaughter of Madiba’s first wife, Evelyn Mandela, and asked for her to give the “message from Madiba”. This would deliver three critical blows: One, it would demonstrate to Mam’ Winnie that she could not hold the organisation to ransom by withholding her presence and thus rendering the lecture illegitimate, knowing that Madiba would be unable to attend himself.
Two, it would send a clear message that Madiba himself fully supported the proceedings and, by implication, also the JZ faction. But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, because it would be a very personal injury to Mam’ Winnie to see the granddaughter of her arch rival, the first wife Evelyn Mandela, take the podium on behalf of Madiba, when her children had historically been Madiba’s mouthpiece in his absence.
In fact, there had been, according to the grapevine, snide remarks suggesting that Mam’ Winnie had played the temptress and snatched Madiba from Evelyn and had caused him to marry her without divorcing Evelyn. God forbid.
The fact that Graca Machel, Madiba’s current wife, was present, albeit silently, was the final and definitive sign of Madiba’s support for this memorial lecture. The final nail in the coffin, if you will.
So when this elaborate plan was revealed to “our mother” as she attempted to extort bully people to succumb to her whims, she went ballistic and wrote the embittered letter.
Indeed, JZ and his inglorious bastards have managed to use Madiba’s name to consolidate their position in the ailing movement. What bad boys they are!
Luckily, this story is just the ravings of an over-active imagination.
Clearly, if this story were true (and I’m sure it’s not) then Winnie’s letter to Jackson would not be the mere rantings of a political has-been, a harmless old woman, but the enraged curses of an ambitious despot, one caught out, out-played at her own game.
But what game? I hear you ask.
The unscrupulous game played by all those who have stolen the name of Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela, a selfless human being who has been guided throughout his life by love and divine purpose. We have taken what the whole world recognises as a rare manifestation of true humanity and sacrifice, and we have branded it, packaged it and sold it as a commodity. We have stolen a man’s legacy placed it in the chop shop of commercialism. We have taken his ideas, half-baked them in the furnaces of our greed, and fed them to spiritual dwarfs and the unlearned.
We are all guilty of playing this game when we think Madiba’s life was a slogan, a silenced conscience or a T-shirt or some paint on a wall; a vote, a song, influence or cash in the bank.
Madiba’s life, all 94 years of his life, have been about giving and selflessness – not not just a few minutes. History will vindicate him.
So in the meantime, I simply say: happy 94th birthday, Nelson Mandela. We salute you. DM
Aubrey Masango was born in Mamelodi, east of Pretoria. Educated at St Johns College in Johannesburg and later went to the University of Pretoria to study to be a teacher. He was bored. He decided to get out of the corporate rat-race in 2009 because he did not like the person he was becoming in the BEE scene, seeing it as pretentious and unsustainable. These days, Aubrey is a talk show host on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape talk. His regular show “Talk with Aubrey” is on a Sunday evening at 23h00 to Monday morning at 01h00.
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí