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Mother of the nation’s bid to be farmer of the year

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. You gotta admit, what a woman. All heart.

Many pitiless people still whine about her role in the Mandela United Football Club and its Sowetan reign of terror in the closing years of apartheid. Admittedly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did rule that she should be held “politically and morally accountable for gross violations of human rights” but then similar slurs could be cast against President Jacob Zuma.

After all, there’s the shooting of the Marikana miners. And the fact that he heads a government unable or unwilling to staunch the bloodshed each year by the South African Police Service — some 700 deaths in police cells or by police action every year.

True, too, that Winnie has convictions for fraud and theft. But in the post-1994 ANC who has the moral standing to cast the first stone in this regard? The Zuma administration has presided over the most sustained and unconstrained looting of state coffers in South African history.

In any case, the problem was never that Winnie pinched $120 000 but that she did so from the ANC Women’s League. There is an endearing naiveté to her picking the pocket of her comrades and not expecting blowback. If you want to pick a pocket, much better to pick a taxpayer pocket, which can be done with relative impunity.

True, also, that she was convicted of the kidnapping of 14-year-old Stompie Seipei but let the record show that she was acquitted of ordering his murder. And the six-year sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.

Nor was she ever convicted of involvement in the murder of family friend Dr Abu-Baker Asvat, who had examined Seipei at Winnie’s house after his abduction. The witnesses all just faded away, which goes to show the truth of the old adage: sticks and stones might break my bones but sworn statements will never harm me.

So after all the criticism that Winnie has had to endure, it is touching to now see her caring side. Aside from believing that traditional law entitles her to it, Winnie has claimed against former president Nelson Mandela’s estate for Madiba’s Qunu home because she is perturbed by the state of the animals on the land.

Winnie points out that the cattle at Qunu are starving and at least one has died. It’s been a tough winter and the pasture is overgrazed, forcing Eastern Cape MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, to take a team of veterinary doctors to Qunu to treat the livestock.

Qoboshiyane is quoted in the Daily Dispatch as saying: “Livestock, like human beings, need to be looked after … I am not happy and deeply concerned. We have to come back here again as the department [to] work with the family and the farm manager.”

Fortunately for the department, Winnie is willing to relieve the burden. Her lawyers have written to Madiba’s estate’s executors, stating her concern for the livestock that were not being properly cared for. “The animals are not in good shape. It is not right that there isn’t a specific person to oversee the farm,” said her attorney, Mvuzo Notyesi. Winnie is willing to be that person.

Compare this selfless attitude to that of Thandi Modise, chair of the National Council of Provinces, who catapulted into notoriety when the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) responded to an unfolding disaster on her North West farm. When inspectors arrived they found 85 live pigs cannibalising 58 dead pigs and surviving by drinking their own urine.

Sheep, geese, goats, and ducks were among more than 100 dead animals, which had been without water and food for at least a week, likely two. Many had to be put down by the NSPCA.

Modise blamed the debacle on incompetent farmworkers, an errant manager, and the fact that as a woman “learner farmer”, one was not allowed to make mistakes. Since then the local vet conducting the autopsies appears to have been intimidated into withdrawing, and NSPCA inspectors returning to the Modise farm for further investigations have laid charges of intimidation, assault, and kidnapping against two of Modise’s employees.

It’s not too late for Modise to extract herself from this mess. Just ask Winnie to take over her farm. The “mother of the nation” knows all about animals and nurturing.

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  • William Saunderson-Meyer

    This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.