As of April 2, 2018, the “mama” of South Africa has passed the age of 81 surrounded by her closest family. Known as the “mother of the [South African] nation”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was an icon throughout her time in politics. She became well known after marrying Nelson Mandela in 1958 and their subsequent divorce.
When her husband was imprisoned, she continually fought for his release and other prisoners unlawfully detained based on anti-black agendas from white officials. The iconic photo of her and her husband walking hand in hand after his 27 year jail sentence quickly became an international symbol for the anti-apartheid community to look towards, as their fight for racial equality in South Africa progressed. Her work to end discrimination prompted young and radical members of her nation to pledge their unwavering support, and through countless scandals, including implications of murder and fraud, that base group was largely responsible for her continual popularity.
Ms. Mandela’s scandals attempted to eclipse her good work, beginning with her own imprisonment for promoting anti-white South African ruling. Beginning in 1969, Winnie was held in solitary confinement, tortured, and banished from her home. When she returned from the multiple banishments, she became increasingly violent and in 1986 stated that there would be, “no more peaceful protests.” Hardened by the apartheid of her homeland and continual oppression by the hands of everyone around her, her resilience grew as challenges and obstacles targeting her – both as a woman and politician – attempted to bring her work in South Africa to a halting stop.
When her husband divorced her, she was kicked off official government counsels and was denied the respect she deserved. Her quotes about a lack of peace quickly came to fruition and became action, and Winnie was convicted of kidnapping a fourteen year old girl, who was found dead in 1989. These lapses of judgement added up, and lead to her years-long break in politics. In 2008, she returned to the ANC and placed first in its election of the National Executive Committee. She headed the Executive Committee’s Women League, which has been criticized for failing to help women’s issues in the present day.
As the world waves goodbye to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, she will be remembered for her support of the anti-apartheid movement. However, recognizing her resilience through lapses in judgement, racist rhetoric and acts of violence against her mark her as being a true hero, who will not be forgotten.
Photo credit: Ulli Michel/Reuters