What is a mother? The expectations of motherhood are high. Certainly they encompass a certain level of selflessness, love, and sacrifice. So here, laid out, is what one might expect from the mother of the nation.
If I were mother of the nation… what an ambitious thing to imagine. And yet, is it so unreasonable to expect that someone try to live up to their name? I certainly would. I would try to be someone who loves unconditionally, and place the needs of my children above my own – on a personal level, and not only with words, but also with actions.
I would try to remember to be selfless – not only to do this for my children, but also for my husband, and the South African nation as a whole.
If I were Mama Winnie, I would remember that I was the beautiful, first black female medical social worker in South Africa. I would remember my tremendous power as having been married to one of the most influential men that ever lived, and I would take credit where it was due, knowing that behind every successful man is a strong woman. I would know that I was that strong woman for a time, and that if our society were not patriarchal, who knows? The roles may even have been reversed – I may have stood behind transformation in South Africa.
I would remember that mothers forgive, and I would extend that forgiveness to myself. I would forgive myself for the Stompie murder, even where I was in the wrong. Batswana bare: Mmago ngwana o tshwara thipa mo bogaleng. A lot of people were necklaced during Apartheid, and in most cases there was never any proof of whether they were a spy or not. The first person (and woman) to be necklaced, Maki Skhosana from Duduza, was simply dating a policeman at the time. There was no other clarification. A lot of guilty and innocent lives alike were lost, in the name of the war for freedom.
I would forgive those who took me to court for the murder of Stompie, too, like most who committed Apartheid crimes. I would sleep at night knowing that I did what I did at the time to protect my husband’s beliefs and the future of the nation.
And I would forgive my former husband, Nelson Mandela, for allowing any of this to be done to me, although he should have known better. (Who was he to judge you and say he would never allow freedom to be bought at such a cost? His freedom was maybe the most costly for an individual.)
I would forgive my former husband, too, for instituting a divorce after so many years of waiting for him and fighting for his release from prison. I would be the bigger person and acknowledge that in my society, men don’t “cheat” – and if they do, it’s acceptable and it must be forgiven (yet if women do it, it’s a crime and unforgivable). I would forgive this man that was a ladies’ man, but became a saint at my expense because he was confined for 27 years. I would acknowledge that not too many women can wait for 27 years… or a lifetime. I would remember that I was young, and beautiful, and could have done worse. And let the one without sin cast the first stone.
I would forgive former president Thabo Mbeki for pushing me away in public, on live television, during an ANC rally. I would remember that men have egos, and will not take kindly to a woman who is more popular than they are, being applauded so loudly despite arriving late at the stadium. (Ask any woman who earns more than her husband.)
I would not take to heart the findings of the TRC in 1998. It’s a process that many had to go through, in order to get closure. And this I would not explain any further. I would have the courage and grace to say: I did what I had to do. And trust that many would understand.
I would acknowledge to myself, with my head held high, that I suffered more than any woman in the Struggle against Apartheid, and still stood my ground. I will remember that I once lasted over five months without taking a bath, and remember that those who judge me never went through my hardship or suffered my pain. They will never begin to understand the damage this does to a human being.
I would take the wisdom that a mother must have, and choose my friends wisely, considering the saga with Xolisa Falati, who went against me and blamed me for the murder of Stompie. I would forgive, though, and say: may your soul RIP. She was vibrant, had a good sense of humour and had plenty of life. I would walk away with the good. We all need friends we can confide in. I would remember that as sad as it was – what she did to me – she ended up in jail and I did not. I would understand that she lived in my shadow and may have been left with bitterness.
I would hold in my heart the moment when I embraced Graca Machel at Madiba’s funeral, in a picture that will be etched in the memories of many women, reminding them that it is always possible to get along. It was a moment of unity, maturity, sincerity, and a true reflection of what a mother – or mothers – of the nation can be.
I would remember that a mother must be the adult, the bigger person, and I would not raise issues about the property in Qunu. Rather, I would approach the current rightful owner and negotiate terms in relation to having access. Having been married in community of property, getting half of everything was only fair, but some battles need to be fought at the appropriate time. I would remember, too, that it is not right to fight the dead.
I would know which battles to fight and which to let go, and in this spirit I would disregard the likes of columnist Verashni Pillay, who wrote in ‘Five times Winnie Mandela has let us down’ of a “growing list of failures”. But there is no polite way of winning a war – and the mother of our nation is anything but a failure. No one, after all, is perfect.
Not everyone will acknowledge the good you have done, Mama Winnie, but to many of us you will always be the mother of the nation – and had you not played the role that you played during Apartheid, we would not be free today.
If I were Winnie, I would know that I was a woman of extraordinary power, perhaps much stronger and more powerful even than Nelson Mandela himself – but I would know which lesson to take from him: forgiveness, and moving on. I would leave the past where it belongs and carry on living.
But then, I am not Winnie; I am not mother of the nation. I am just Lebo Keswa – and all I can say is AMANDLA! DM
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