OPINION | I wish someone taught the young me about the real Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

16 April 2018 - 08:00
The story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one every little black girl deserves to know.
The story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one every little black girl deserves to know.
Image: James Oatway/Sunday Times

Learning about the true and iconic Winnie Madikizela-Mandela only after her death is a clear indication that they knew her power and intentionally tried to bury it, an act that I believe will cost SA for a long time.

Since the announcement of Mama Winnie's death I’ve held back everything I had to say for one main reason: I felt other people could better express how her death affected them, they knew her.

I watched from the sidelines as people poured out their hearts and shared emotional tributes about this marvel of a woman who had given the best years of her life to the struggle and continued to fight even after we were made to believe the war was over.

I admired her. There’s no denying she has always been a force but it was not until her death that I really got to know who Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was.

If you asked me who Ma Winnie was before April 2, I would probably say things like: She was Nelson Mandela’s wife. She played an important role in the liberation struggle. She was romantically linked to men younger than her. She allegedly had something  to do with the death of Stompie.

This sounds like I have an idea but in comparison to the answer I would give you if you asked me about Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Desmond Tutu and most of the people in the Robben Island squad… it is a crying shame!

You would see, I only realised recently that I knew nothing about Winnie Mandela. And, it was a deliberate plan set in motion by enemies to progress.

In 2007, I was in higher primary when they introduced us to a book series called the Freedom Fighters. These books, written in simple English by Chris van Wyk, were part of a learning area called Social Sciences. As part of the oral section, we would learn them by heart and go recite them in a competition against neighbouring schools. The series had brief bios of people like Nelson, Tutu, Hani, Biko, Plaatjie, Luthuli and two women, Winnie and Helen Joseph.

We all fought to learn about Mandela, an obvious hero in our eyes at the time. I got Madiba and Thabo Mbeki. Madiba's book was the hardest to memorise, it had 20 chapters as opposed to Winnie’s, which had 11. Nobody volunteered to take Winnie’s book and nobody insisted on it either. Not the teachers and definitely not the curriculum. She was just "Nelson Mandela’s wife".

It could be patriarchy, sexism, racism, propaganda or just pure jealousy that made the powers that be decide to “erase” Winnie from a history she co-wrote.

What a tragedy.

In a 24-year-old democracy, a 24-year -old has no idea who Winnie Madikizela-Mandela truly was. That’s not the saddest part. The sad part is: do the younger ones even have an idea? Will someone tell them? Will someone insist on it? Someone has to.

When I took it upon myself to read, listen and watch the life and times of Winnie, I felt robbed.

Someone failed the younger me because they failed to tell me the true story of Nomzamo.

The one who persevered. The woman who fought when others ran to exile or sat behind protected prison grounds. The woman who was left to face the wrath of the apartheid government by herself.

The one who had to make the hard choices. The one who was always caught between a rock and a hard place. The woman who mothered a nation at the expense of her own children. A woman who fought both a physical and an abstract fight till the bitter end...straight to the afterlife.

The leader. The strategist. The visionary. The activist. The mother. The betrayed woman. The human being with supernatural strength. The original black girl magic. The woman I should aspire to be.

Ntsiki Mazwai tweeted last year that only after Mama Winnie died would we wake up and feel sorry for ourselves for letting her die without thanking her. She was right. We are sorry, but the elders are in the wrong.

They robbed a black girl of a fitting role model. May that change. Let her multiply.