She was born in 1936 and named Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela. What the world would come to know this South African beauty is Winnie Mandela, the wife of African National Congress (ANC) leader, Nelson Mandela. Their struggles for freedom, dignity, and liberation from the racist ignominy known as a apartheid filled most of the twentieth century.
He, Nelson, labored under the eye of the harsh apartheid sun, breaking rocks in the prison yard, while she labored under the white state’s total surveillance while she raised their children.
She was a class act to the very end and a lifelong revolutionary.
While not widely known, her suffering included not only separation from her husband, but the cruel legality called “banning,” a South African censorship that outlawed her speech, not allowing her to quote her husband’s words. Winnie, a lifelong rebel, ignored such law, and proudly quoted Nelson.
And she suffered her own imprisonment as well. She was banished to Bloemfontein, a white Afrikaner district where the only blacks she saw were servants or cooks for white families. She continued to resist the racist governor. The ANC was banned and she wore the ANC colors as a headdress. And when, after Nelson’s freedom, the marriage ended, she remained a powerful presence in South African life, loved by the nation’s poor and dispossessed. For they knew, in their heart of hearts, that their struggle was her struggle.
In her 1984 book, Part of My Soul Went with Him, Winnie Mandela wrote:
I have ceased a long time ago to exist as an individual. The ideals, the political goals that I stand for, those are the ideals and goals of the people in this country. They cannot just forget their own ideals. My private self doesn’t exist. Whatever they do to me they do to the people of this country.
Several years ago, when Nelson was being laid to rest, his third wife, Graça Machel Mandela, slumped in grief, was given a hug and a kiss to console her by his second wife, Winnie. Nomzamo Winnie Mandela Madikizela, a class act to the very end and a lifelong revolutionary.
— From a prison nation, this is Mumba Abu-Jamal.
Mumia’s commentaries appear in collaboration with Prison Radio.
Photo: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela celebrating her 80th birthday in Cape Town, 2016. Credit: GCIS.