This week marks one year since the passing of South Africa’s former first lady, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on the 2nd April 2018 at the age of 81. Much has changed about the perception of Winnie Mandela since her death – in her later years Winnie was vilified for her links to violence against black people, and in particular her association with the Mandela United Football Club and the death of Stompie Seipei. But despite the situation she found herself in, Winnie Mandela was very much for the people, and made massive sacrifices in her quest to see the people of South Africa freed.
In her book, 491 Days, a compilation of prison journals and letters, Winnie details the 17 months that she spent in solitary confinement, beginning in May 1969. Winnie Mandela: A Life, written by Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob, is another book that provides fascinating insight into the complex life of one of our country’s most famous, and possibly misunderstood, activists. And published after her death, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela by Sisonke Msimangis, tells the story of Winnie in the context of the apartheid regime, while considering the patriarchal character of the struggle itself.
So it seems though that the passing of Winnie Mandela has coincided with a change in public opinion, with Winnie finally been recognised for the contribution that she made in the fight for a democratic South Africa. There have even been talks of changing the name of the Cape Town International Airpot in honour of Winnie, and recently sculptor, Lungelo Gumede, added a life sized render of the ANC stalwart to his pop-up wax museum, an artwork that’s garnered a lot of attention.
But perhaps this is something worth delving into, the question of why so many of South Africa’s heroes and heroins go unsung for so long? In the words of writer and historian, Ntombizikhona Valela:
……we are actually only giving her flowers now that she can no longer smell them”. The Talking Point with Bongi Gwala, 5th April 2019