Winnie Madikizela-Mandela speaks as if it was not the ANC collective that made the decisions that caused her to complain about Nelson Mandela, her ex-husband. She places all the blame squarely on his shoulders. She acts as if she was not part of the NEC that agreed to the principles that would lead to the formation a new South Africa. Apparently Nelson Mandela was a dictator who made every single decision by himself. Of course, that’s if what is reported is true.
I have always held Winnie Madikizela Mandela in the highest regard — I think most of us do despite what the media says about her. I couldn’t help but sympathise with her when former president Thabo Mbeki knocked her hat off her head when she arrived late for some ANC celebrations. I have not always agreed with her but I have always respected her struggle against oppression. I don’t know many people who would have been able to survive what she had to go through. Policemen barging down her doors as they pleased, humiliating her in front of her children. She has suffered untold humiliations. As much as Madiba was the symbol of oppression in jail, she was the symbol of resistance outside.
The mistake that Winnie Madikizela Mandela is making is that of approaching Nelson Mandela from the angle of a man who is incapable of doing wrong. It is as if she thought he was perfect and suddenly realised he wasn’t. Nelson Mandela puts this in perspective when he says of her, “She married a man who soon left her; that man became a myth; and then that myth returned home and proved to be just a man after all.” Perhaps she still sees him as a myth, a man who can do all things.
She tries to make him a mere man amongst the leaders of the ANC by the manner in which London’s Evening Standard claimed she criticised him. However, she achieves the opposite of what she was aiming for — by blaming him she places him above the other leaders because she says he alone is to blame. If she listened carefully to what he has said repeatedly, “I must not be isolated from the collective who are responsible for the success.”
The first government had to achieve certain things, political liberation first and try to avert any bloodshed that could possibly take place in the process of starting a new nation. It could not afford to be radical; radicalism has rarely led to stability anywhere. The second job of government was to bring the masses to the economic front; it didn’t really achieve it by that much, and it certainly did bring large amounts of black people to the middle class, but not enough. Sixteen years on, black people’s spending power now exceeds that of white people. She points out, correctly, that the economy is still in white hands. The struggle continues.
She is quoted saying “I kept the movement alive,” a few sentences later she says, “You all must realise that Mandela was not the only man who suffered.” We realise that and Mandela himself says that Winnie suffered a lot more than he did and there are thousands who suffered more than he did for freedom’s cause. If we look at what she said, here she is claiming sole credit. “I kept the movement alive.” The ANC and the people kept the movement alive. If anything, the movement and the people kept them both alive. Both Mandela’s cannot claim credit, they were symbols that we couldn’t have done without. We needed both. There couldn’t be one without the other.
“This name Mandela is an albatross around the necks of my family. You all must realise that Mandela was not the only man who suffered. There were many others, hundreds who languished in prison and died. Many unsung and unknown heroes of the struggle, and there were others in the leadership too, like poor Steve Biko, who died of the beatings, horribly all alone. Mandela did go to prison and he went in there as a burning young revolutionary. But look what came out.”
Another mistake she is making is that people don’t change. She remembers an angry militant young man going to jail, a man who was also the founder of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC. She thought she would meet the same fiery man but what walked out was a better man than the one who walked into prison, she didn’t know how to deal with him. He had an advantage in prison she didn’t have outside — the advantage of thinking in isolation, putting pieces together without being interrupted by the temptations of short-term goals to please the masses’ immediate needs. Nelson Mandela could put his emotions aside and think of what needed to be done for the greater good.
When we entered into a negotiated settlement, we agreed to things that ensured the unity of the nation. No one was happy with the outcome, the hallmark of successful negotiations — each side felt cheated. “When you negotiate, you must be prepared to compromise.” Compromise basically means being happy with being unhappy about what you agree to. That is what negotiations were. No one came out the outright winner during Codesa.
He realised that sacrifices had to be made, while she was thinking pay back. He came out a hero; she was painted as a villain after the Stompie incident. Their world-views couldn’t have been more different. He wanted a divorce, she didn’t. Now he was too good for her. It’s possible that these were the thoughts going through her head. I made him, his name survived because of me — he’d be nobody without me. This is how he thanks me? Of course, no one can claim to know what was going on in her head, I am making uneducated speculation.
Winnie is completely wrong. She speaks as if Nelson Mandela negotiated by himself, as if he didn’t have a team to work with, a team that came up with ideas, proposed them to the NEC and then presented to the apartheid government. She blames him alone for the ills of the current state of the country. This reminds me a little of the ANC blaming all that is wrong on Thabo Mbeki and taking credit for all that’s gone well.
Winnie reminds me of the bit in the Bible when Moses went up the mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. He was up there for a long time — weeks — if my memory serves me. When he came back, the people had become impatient and they made a golden calf and worshipped it. Moses left his brother Aaron in charge and he built a calf in order to appease the angry Israelites. Upon descending, Moses slammed the stone tablet and smashed it to pieces. Moses would occasionally call the Israelites the stiff-necked people because they were never happy, never satisfied, always complaining. They would say Egypt was better.
Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t complain when we see that things are not going the way they should be. Nelson Mandela could have done a lot of things better, but he is the first one to admit that. He is a mere man. He didn’t lead South Africa alone. Is he beyond criticism? Of course not. He must be scrutinised and we should forever remember that he is not God. Having said that, I hope Winnie Madikizela Mandela didn’t say the things she is reported to have said.