Opinionista Chabana Chabana 5 April 2018

Winnie was not just a wife to President Mandela – she was her own person

We have a responsibility to defend Winnie Madikizela-Mandela against patriarchal tendencies of seeing her only as a wife of our late president.

A day after April Fool’s day, 2 April 2018, we received the sad news of the falling of a Giant Tree whose shadows refused to be cast out by any source of light. Under this tree many enjoyed the coolness provided when faced with the scorching heart of apartheid’s oppressive laws.

We could not believe the sad news of the passing of Mme Winnie Mandela as a people, as if we wanted to turn back the clock, so that somebody may say, it was an April Fool’s joke. What broke the camel’s back was when it was officially confirmed that indeed Mme Winnie Mandela is no more.

The fall of this gigantic tree reverberated in all media platforms. The people were all confirming that indeed, the mother of the nation has fallen, the title that was not concocted in war rooms of political parties to push ulterior propaganda, intended to enhance the stature of a person who will otherwise not fit the title. Mme Winnie fits the title like a glove; it was not imposed on her by some rogue leader in the dark corners.

It is a well-deserved title given by the people; the title of Mother of the Nation fits Mme Winnie more than ever. She fought side by side with the people, she stayed among the people and shared their pains when it was not easy to do that, she was willing to pay the ultimate price for her people.

Mme Winnie’s contribution to the Struggle should be allowed to shine on its own without putting it under the shadow of her late husband’s Struggle credentials. The greatest injustice we shall do to her legacy is to cloud her credentials with the contribution of President Mandela.

We have a responsibility to defend her against patriarchal tendencies of her being seen only as a wife of our late president. We should refuse to narrow her contribution to that of a wife of President Mandela who had the responsibility to keep the Nelson Mandela struggle alive while he was in prison.

We have a responsibility to refuse to imprison her contribution as if to suggest that without Nelson Mandela she was not her own person. History is littered with instances of how her consciousness was raised from her formative years, she became her own person when she witnessed a son of a shop owner dehumanising a family in Bizana as well as when she arrived in Johannesburg, seeing the sad reality that blacks were treated as subhuman beings by the white apartheid regime.

In the Struggle she refused to be seen as only a wife of President Mandela, though she was beautiful. She rejected a tendency to reduce her to an ornamental trophy of President Mandela.

Before her late husband she was a revolutionary, a comrade and a fellow freedom fighter, hence she has her own chapter in the history books. History will not be kind to anyone who will want to reduce Winnie Mandela to a mere wife of President Mandela.

Historians will not find it difficult to write about the story of Mama Winnie without mentioning her late husband. Her contribution can stand on its own. Her Struggle credentials remain towering before our eyes. Even in death Winnie Mandela is still feared by racists; some of them are celebrating her death today. Her ideas and militancy shall remain generations after the burial of her lifeless body. As we are going to bury her body we are not burying her ideas; her revolutionary ideas remain intact in us.

She will remain an inspiration to us, she is a rare revolutionary. She should be a pillar of strength to women all over the world. We should look up to her contribution to fight against patriarchy, whenever it shows up.

We should not allow Mme Winnie to die, she should remain in our hearts and in our memories. She does not need a statue to be remembered, she remains in our hearts, her Struggle contribution and sacrifice is entombed in our memories. She was truly not a wife of President Mandela in Struggle. She was a leader in her own right. DM

Chabana Chabana is a student of Public Management, with passion for Public Accountability. He is also an activist based in Free State with specific focus on social justice and workers’ rights. He is currently a Free State Interim Provincial Coordinator of Labour and Employment Relations Associations of South Africa. He is Former National Executive Member of South African Union of Students.


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