I celebrate the life of Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, Sep 26, 1936 – Apr 02, 2018 . I once wrote a piece about her called “Nomzamo Means Trial,” because that is exactly what her life had been from the time she lost her mother as a young girl until her death yesterday in her beloved South Africa.
Winnie Mandela never made nice and never backed down. From the time she appeared at Nelson Mandela’s treason trial in 1964 wearing indigenous dress and radiating beauty, youth and defiance in equal parts, she began racking up enemies both within and outside the movement. Some more seasoned ANC members wondered why she got so much media attention. The “authorities” banned her from dressing in African clothing for fear her very appearance would be provocative to other Africans. Too late.
Mrs. Mandela kept the plight of her husband Nelson Mandela, his cohorts on Robben Island and a nation of Africans in the world spotlight for more than two decades. Without her there would have been no President Mandela; he and his colleagues would have died in prison as mere footnotes to history.
Today I choose to celebrate Mrs. Mandela’s place in South Africa’s history as its first Black social worker, a feminist and a freedom fighter who never gave up the struggle for equality in her complicated republic.
My condolences to the Mandela daughters Zennie And Zindzi, my former schoolmates from Waterford/Kamhlaba school in Swaziland, and to their extended family, including Mrs. Graca Machel Mandela, Winnie’s close friend.
And to Mama Winnie, as she was affectionately called by her supporters at home, “Hamba Kahle, Sisi. Hamba Kahle.” Go with God, Sister. Go with God. Peace at last.
I was fortunate to see the new documentary on Winnie Mandela, Winnie, by feminist filmmaker Pascale Lamche, and to participate in a talk back with her from her home in London, just this past Saturday. For those interested in a balanced, nuanced look at Mrs. Mandela, I recommend it highly. Lamche has won a Sundance directing award for this film. You can find Winnie on Netflix:
You may also read Mrs. Mandela’s autobiography Part of My Soul Went with Him. Written in 1985 it chronicles her early relationship with Nelson Mandela, their separation through his imprisonment, her 17-month prison stint, including 13 months in solitary confinement and torture, and her banishment to a remote area by the South African government. 491 Days, also by Mrs. Mandela, chronicles her being dragged from her home by the security forces in the early hours of the morning in 1969, leaving her two young daughters unattended. Her brutal imprisonment is documented through her personal journals and letters, including correspondence to and from Nelson Mandela.