As old Winnie story is shredded, we need a new one

15 April 2018 - 00:00 By JJ Tabane

The death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has sparked a battle of narratives about the full meaning of her illustrious life.
Since she died much has been laid bare, despite attempts to clamp down on critical voices. The irony is that Winnie herself was a big supporter of speaking truth to power.
Those publicly marking her death will include people who, because of the freedom she fought for, feel emboldened to highlight what they see as her flaws.
And so, to expect a narrative that sounds like the Hallelujah Chorus would be neither realistic nor desirable.
Let us analyse what kind of picture has been painted in the nearly two weeks of mourning so far. TV channel eNCA had to quickly amend its billboard screaming her name as a terrorist.
But this was not the end of the story as eNCA ran Pascale Lamche's heart-wrenching documentary that riled many viewers by reminding South Africans that there were those in the liberation movement who betrayed her.The documentary Winnie dealt with the not-so-flattering side of her story, recording how her own people in the United Democratic Front sought to dissociate themselves from her during her darkest days. It reminded us how Nelson Mandela was made to choose between remaining president and divorcing her. It was also shocking to learn that her then-husband's new administration had sought to reopen cases against her.
Journalists came under particular fire with the claim being made that up to 40 of them had been on the payroll of the security police.
The effect was to suggest that our history-telling has been very poor, and that Winnie was the victim of a badly told story. Now those implicated have a new round of explaining to do.
None of this makes her an angel, obviously, but it is clear that a proper story about her life and times is yet to be told.
EFF leader Julius Malema's eulogy at the funeral yesterday did not spare those who made Mama Winnie's life a misery. Clearly this did not sit well with ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe, who despite not being on the funeral programme felt the need to admonish those who he said tried to hijack the event to fight political battles.President Cyril Ramaphosa was more conciliatory, saying we must tend Winnie's wounds and heal them. He acknowledged that South Africa had not attended to these wounds during her life.
Mantashe's intervention was the latest attempt to control the narrative about her life. The reality is that the funerals that Winnie herself attended in the heyday of the struggle were always used as political events and were never bland occasions for whitewashing. Frankly, one wonders what on earth Mantashe was expecting Malema to do with such a huge platform.
From the media houses that cleared their programming to communities that thronged halls across the nation to pay tribute, it was clear that a new page of history was being written.
Winnie's life was a tapestry of contradictions, but the years of service and compassion during which she focused on the poor are what stand out as an unfulfilled dream. More than 55% of the people for whom she fought still live below the breadline. The youth for whom she was an inspiration are on the streets, with too many facing a bleak future.
She departs shortly after the dream of a woman president was deferred once again when the ANC chose a man as president in December. While many commentators have been quick to stress her battle against patriarchy, since she exited the political stage patriarchy has only become entrenched, as seen in the fact that the ANC top six includes only one woman.
Indeed it was at the hands of the patriarchy that Winnie suffered the most, not only outside the ANC but within it as well, despite the party supposedly being a safe space.
The number of women who die at the hands of their partners is evidence that our work to elevate her legacy and pick up her spear is cut out for all of us. It will be interesting to see what progress has been made by the time we mark the anniversary of her death next year ... but it is clear that a giant tree has fallen and the story of its life must be better told.
Tabane is a talkshow host on Power 98.7 and SABC3

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