Defend Truth


We are not confused – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is our people’s shero


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

We will not allow you to dishonour the name of our mother with innuendos and adjectives.

A giant has fallen.

When the news came that my mother, Mama Winnie, had passed away, I was filled with great sadness as I’m sure many of you were too. But as I was listening to leaders of our movement and in particular exiled comrades lamenting her passing, my heart filled with anger and outrage. Adjectives such as black spots, colourful history and unfortunate events were part of their vocabulary when describing Mama.

All I can say to all of you is: afford our Mother of the Nation the requisite respect and dignity – or you hold your tongue. We will not tolerate you being the authors of our internal history, NO!

We have heard the ANC exiles’ narrative of South African history for far too long; tread carefully when it comes to our mother. We were here, you were not. ?

After the 1976 uprising in Soweto, which in turn led to uprisings throughout the country, we were at war. War, no less – detention, arrests, torture and being killed. What do you know of our pain and suffering in a real way? It was not our father or mother in prison, it was me. Our history will not be substituted to suit an exiles’ narrative. While you were lamenting from your cosy lounges in London and Lusaka, we were dying.

So when Mama said, “Strike that match”, we embraced it. For informers, impimpis and collaborators were our enemies and had to die. Perhaps you think we were playing marbles while you were talking about talking with the enemy, but working with the apartheid filth meant some of us were going to be arrested, tortured and of course slip on some soap and break our necks, fall out of a 10-storey window because we always wanted to commit suicide or go for a swim when everyone knew I could not swim. Winnie Mandela endured all this and more.

We are not confused. ?

The 1980s saw the apartheid state at its most brutal; perhaps it was because it knew it was losing the war. Our mother had to endure the frustration of the security police and the apartheid military personnel. She had to face and experience their brutality first-hand, not only in prison or detention, nor while she was banished to Brandfort, almost weekly. Her house being shot at in the dead of night by faceless cowards. Her person and that of her daughters being threatened every time those white pigs came to harass her in the early hours of the morning.

No, we are not confused, we were at war.

You think your sanitised history of “a miracle” between 1990-1994 fools some of us? We are not confused.

We were fighting for our lives during that period. The deliberate strategy of the Nationalist Party was to instigate and fuel so-called “black on black” violence. In which we all as revolutionaries with Mama Winnie at the forefront fought with distinction and valour. In which our people died at the hands of police in the Boipatong massacre and the many that died in Helenvale in the Eastern Cape, among so many others.

Our people were dying. Our leaders were dying. Chris Hani was assassinated. Mercenary apartheid outfits such as Koevoet, whose murderers would go out in the dead of night to kill and maim our Comrades.

Killing is our business and business is good,” read their T-shirts.

Vlakplaas operatives hard at work to undermine the democratic process under way at the world trade centre in Kempton Park. So many of you have forgotten how bombs went off at the then Jan Smuts Airport and in downtown Johannesburg, just a week before the scheduled general elections of 1994. Bodies and limbs strewn everywhere.?

We are not confused. ??So when you talk of the Stompie Seipei matter, remember the environment we were in at the time. Where Jerry Richardson was an informer for the apartheid police – there is conclusive evidence to this effect and yet some of you still try to imply that Mama Winnie Mandela had something to do with it. Shame on you.

Not everyone agreed with the approach taken by our beloved ANC post 1990. We did not all agree with appeasing whites, reconciliation and forgiveness was not that easy for some of us, and Mama Winnie was one of those who took issue with such an approach.

Should she therefore be vilified for her personal convictions? She always remained a disciplined member of the collective of the ANC and supported Nelson Mandela but questioned his intentions every now and again, as a good leader ought to do. ??

We know our history, we are not confused. You will not tell us who and how to cherish and honour Winnie Mandela.?? Let us celebrate the passing of our mother in our own way, and stop thinking you can dictate how we must do it. Don’t start believing the sanitised shit you are shovelling in terms of the revisionist history so much liked by our Western hemisphere. ??We will not allow you to dishonour the name of our mother with innuendos and adjectives.

In an interview I recently watched, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle ask Mama to reflect on those dark days in solitary confinement and this is how she responded:?

Solitary confinement left scars that NOTHING can heal, you lose your person in there.?? You become an object for them.”

But the words that left an indomitable mark on me was when she responded to her white captives.?:

I will always prick their consciousness, I will always remind them of our painful past.”

That was our Mama Winnie Mandela.

Show me another women leader who had to suffer so much over a period of 27 years.

Perhaps the reason why some of you feel she must be pigeon-holed, or that her character must reflect a particular hue, is because we in Mzansi know what you exiles fear and that is that if ever there was a leader, a revolutionary and a gentle soul that can stand tall next to Nelson Mandela, it would have to be Winnie Mandela.

She will forever be revered and remembered as a social worker, a consummate leader of our Struggle, a mother not only to her daughters but to us all and, most important, our firebrand shero.

Long live the fighting spirit of Winnie Mandela!

Your spear, Comrade Winnie, I carry with pride and your memory will live on through my children. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.