Charismatic Winnie Mandela exits ‘the struggle’

  • Buhari, world leaders, others react to her death

By Robinson Esighasim


SOUTH African anti-apartheid campaigner and former wife of the late President Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, died last Monday. She died peacefully at the age of 81 on Monday afternoon while being surrounded by her family and loved ones as confirmed by the family spokesman, Victor Dlamini. He disclosed that Mrs Mandela “succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones.”

According to her family, she died at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg after a prolonged illness, which kept her in and out of hospital since the year began.

Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was born in 1936 in the Eastern Cape – then known as Transkei and was known as the ‘Mother of the Nation’ for her role in fighting white-minority rule in South Africa. Her legacy was overshadowed by her frequent run-ins with South African authorities

President Muhammadu Buhari has described the passing away of the South-African anti-apartheid icon, Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as a huge loss to Africa.

The President, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, noted that Winnie Mandela was “a woman of uncommon determination, steadfastness and perseverance who held aloft the torch of the struggle against institutionalised discrimination even while her ex-husband, the late Madiba, President Nelson Mandela was incarcerated.

“President Buhari, on behalf of the government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, commiserated with the family of the deceased, the government and people of South Africa.”

He urged the South Africans to be consoled by the knowledge that the late Winnie Mandela’s contributions to ending apartheid will not be forgotten.

According to him, she remained a pride not only to the African woman, but indeed all Africans.

The President prayed that God Almighty will comfort all those who mourn the departed and grant her soul eternal rest.

Leaders from all over the world humbled themselves and paid tribute to Winnie, sending emotional farewell messages on their respective social media pages.

In his social media farewell message, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta recounted her valour and heroic lifestyle, and thereby prayayed that her courage would inspire them to make the most of the liberty she won for them..

“In the life of Winnie Mandela, who endured and won, we see plainly what our freedom cost. May her courage inspire us to make the most of the liberty she won for us; may her family be comforted by the memory of her heroic life; and may she rest in perpetual peace,” Kenyatta said.

Kenyan Deputy President, William Samoei Ruto reacted to her demise. According to him, “the world mourns a towering anti-apartheid figure and an unrelenting crusader of democracy, human rights and good governance. Winnie Mandela was the embodiment of the long, persistent struggle to liberate the people of South Africa from the racial segregation regime,” Ruto said.

An American actor and film producer, Samuel L Jackson reacted by making this statement:

“How blessed was I to run into Winnie Mandela in a mall in Jobergh? Indescribable joy & humility, AMAZING! Rest in Power, REST IN PEACE. THANKS,” Jackson said.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education in Kenya, Amina C. Mohamed reacted by uttering these words: “the passing of Winnie Mandela is the passing of a legend who personified the struggle against racial, gender & political injustices,” Mohame said.

The Ugandan President, Yoweri K Museveni expressed sympathy by saying “very sorry to hear about the death of comrade Winnie Mandela. I salute her contribution to the resistance in South Africa, especially during the time Mzee Mandela was in prison.”

A British model, actress and singer, Naomi Campbell also disclosed her feeling about her link and relationship with late Mrs Mandela, “I cherish the times I spent with you, embracing me in your family & home. You were Woman of strength that endured so much hardship and sacrifice. Without you, we would not know anything about Tata and his 27 years. You will remain in my heart!! R.I.P WINNIE MANDELA,” Campbell said.

“Throughout Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in jail, Winnie Mandela kept the campaign going and the hope alive. She had a huge impact on the anti-apartheid movement. May she Rest In Peace,” a former Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed said.

“There is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known”- Winnie Mandela

Without such powerful and brave women, the quest for freedom would suffer big setbacks,” Ugandan musician, activist and Parliamentarian ‘Bobi Wine’ said as he quoted Mrs Mandela.

For decades, she and her then-husband, the iconic Nelson Mandela, were the country’s most famous political couple – but Mr Mandela divorced her in 1996. After their separation, she kept his surname and they maintained ties, leading to critics accusing her of attempting to use his name for political mileage.

In later life, her reputation later became tainted by a fraud conviction and murder accusations, which she denied.

Born in Bizana in the Transkei in 1936, she met Mr Mandela in 1957. He was married at the time to Evelyn Mase but the marriage was breaking up.

The next year they married – she was a young bride, 16 years his junior, glamorous and strong-willed. However, they were destined to have little time together as political activism and a period in hiding kept Mr Mandela apart from her.

He was jailed for life in 1964 and only released in 1990.

While he was in prison, she took on an increasingly political role, partly because of constant harassment by the South African security police.

She became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid and a rallying point for poor, black township residents who demanded their freedom.

Her resistance to harassment and championing of the anti-apartheid cause led to periods of imprisonment from 1969, much of it spent in solitary confinement.

In 1976, the year of the Soweto riots, she was banished from the township to a remote rural area. At one stage her house was burned down, with suspicion falling on the South African security forces.

This led to her being dubbed the “Mother of the Nation”.

By the mid-1980s and the start of a long period of township militancy against the white government of President P W Botha, she was back in Soweto and at the heart of the struggle.

Her image and activism drew to her many anti-apartheid activists, including a group of young men who became her personal bodyguards.

They became known as the Mandela United Football Club.

Her prominence led to great influence over young, radical township activists but also growing controversy.

As activists turned on suspected police informers or collaborators, the use of rubber tyres filled with petrol as brutal murder weapons, known as “necklaces”, became widespread. At one rally, she controversially seemed to endorse their use.

Even greater controversy came when she was accused by senior anti-apartheid activists of involvement in the killing of a 14-year-old township militant, Stompie Seipei.

Stompie had been seized by Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguards in 1989 and was later found dead.

Members of the ANC leadership accused her of being behind the killing and of conducting a virtual reign of terror in parts of Soweto.

From prison, Mr Mandela continued to support his wife.

In 1991, after his release, she was charged with the assault and kidnapping of Stompie and one of her bodyguards was charged with his murder.

She denied the allegations but was found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to six years imprisonment.

This was reduced to a fine by an appeal court.

Her marriage to Mr Mandela broke down in the years after his release and they were divorced in 1996.

President Mandela accused her of adultery, and in the same year, dismissed her as deputy minister of arts and culture – the only post she has held in government since white minority rule ended.

Her split from Mr Mandela did little to harm her political standing among poor, black South Africans who saw her as their voice at a time when the ANC had adopted pro-business policies.

But at the same time, she became known for an increasingly lavish lifestyle, arriving to testify at Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in a white Mercedes limousine surrounded by bodyguards.

In 2003, Ms Madikizela-Mandela suffered another blow when a court convicted her of fraud and theft in connection with a bank loan scandal.

The sentencing magistrate compared her to a modern-day Robin Hood, fraudulently acquiring loans for people who were desperately short of money, but he said that as a prominent public figure, she should have known better.

An appeal judge overturned the conviction for theft, but upheld the one for fraud, handing her a three-year-and-six-month suspended sentence.

This dented her career, but she remained respected in the ANC, and was an MP until her death.

At the ANC conference in 2007, she was elected to the party’s top decision-making body, the National Executive Committee, and in the 2009 general election, she was placed fifth on the list of ANC’s MPs nominated for parliament, in a clear sign that then-President Jacob Zuma saw her as an electoral asset.

She would later clash with him and become political patron of the youth leader, Julius Malema.

Ms Madikizela-Mandela described being there for the final moments of her ex-husband’s life in 2013, and appeared in a prominent position at memorial services in his honour.

After his death, she became embroiled in a legal battle over his village home, which she wanted for their two daughters, Zinzi and Zenani. The Supreme Court affirmed a decision that she held no claim to it in January 2018.

The same month she was honoured with an honorary degree from Makerere University in Uganda for her anti-apartheid campaigning.

Although she remained in the political limelight, she was granted leave from parliament in March 2018 due to ill health.

According to a release by the South African government, “Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela will be laid to rest on 14 April 2018 during a state funeral,” a government statement read.

Ahead of the funeral, an official memorial service of Madikizela-Mandela will take place on April 11, 2018. President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on Monday night after visiting the family home of the former activist in Orlando, Soweto.

“At a national government level, we have declared that Winnie Mandela will have a national official funeral. We would like to express our gratitude and our thanks to the many across the country and the world who are wishing us well,” President Ramaphosa said .


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