By Rafiq Raji, PhD
With raised fists, mourners shouted her name in the rain as she made her final journey. “I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”, she once said; there are probably no truer words. Before, as her casket rode by the streets of her beloved Soweto towards Orlando Stadium, bike riders in full gear, raised their helmets in salute. Her beloved Sowetans ran along, the extent they could. She was being given a state funeral not as a favour but because to have done otherwise would have been almost suicidal for the government. The people would have given her a befitting farewell regardless. And they did. Some of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party cadres who were belatedly now celebrating her were likely conscience-striken; mean folks, those ones. She bested them all. She was at once an open book and an enigma. It made sense then that her favourite hymn was “Great Mystery”, which her friends and foes sang as she lay in her casket likely with a mischievous smile. She stirred in both, depending on who, almost violent emotions of love and hate. On 14 April, the day of her funeral, a nation was genuinely distraught for a leader who did not shy away from her humanity nor allowed it stop her from achieving her great destiny. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was celebrated, not because she was an appendage to Nelson Mandela, the deceased father of the nation, but as “Mama Winnie”, mother of South Africa.
My first inkling of the suffering in South Africa was through the popular movie “Sarafina”. As I recall in the early 1990s, back in Shiroro in northcentral Nigeria, where the country’s still most modern hydroelectric power station is located, we had neighbours from different parts of the world; Italians, Americans, Egyptians, Namibians and so on. One, a nurse from Namibia, was the mother of a friend; and perhaps the friend of everyone in the massive estates housing the staff of the power station. I do not recall how many times I watched the movie but I think Ibrahim had to ask for it back. Black South Africans went through unbelievable suffering and Winnie was right in the thick of it. Who could make Jacob Zuma, the former South African president, and firebrand opposition leader Julius Malema, attend the same event? Mama Winnie. Her magnetism emanated from her genuineness. Of course, she took great care with her appearance. Not that her beautiful visage required any embellishment. She was as beautiful and she was fierce. That lethal combination made her at once adored and feared. They say she cheated on her husband who she could not touch for almost three decades. Hypocrites. Many of them use public money to “bless” young girls with meagre means and they dare to point a finger. She defied them all. But perhaps what really enraged her enemies was that they could not control her no matter how hard they tried. And no one did. Not even Nelson.
Unfortunately, the comrades she is leaving behind would likely simply go on with their corrupt lives after all the celebrations. But she did plant a few worthy seeds. Mr Malema, who gave his most impassioned speech yet at her funeral, took her enemies on. The hypocrites are crying the loudest, he shouted. “Those who sold you out to the apartheid regime are here. Mama, you never told me how we must treat them when they come here, I am waiting for a signal, Ma…all those who resigned from the NEC of the Women’s League because they said they cannot be led by a criminal, they are here. Some of them are playing prominent roles in your funeral, in a funeral of a person they called a criminal, in the funeral of a person they were ready to humiliate in front of the whole world, they are here, Mama. Ma, Ma, Ma, I am waiting for a signal on how we should treat them ”, he remonstrated with an emotion-laden voice. “Mama, you didn’t know that your organisation had been rendered incapable of loving you back”. The discomfort his words caused the ANC cadres that they were targeted at was palpable. He did not spare Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president. He decried the continued deplorable state of dependants of protesting miners killed at Marikana. Former ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe made an attempt at “adult supervision” thereafter, saying the funeral should not be an occasion for opening old wounds. He should have probably just shut up. How are the horrible wounds that Ms Mandela and many poor black South Africans endured to be forgotten? Thank God for the many brave sons and daughters she raised like Mr Malema who will now continue her fight.
Rest in peace
To his credit, President Ramaphosa rose to the moment. Quoting from his eulogy: “They thought they could banish her to Brandfort. They miscalculated greatly because in truth, they sent her to live among her people – to share in their trials, tribulations and hardships, to share their hopes and aspirations, and to draw courage from their daily struggle against the tyranny of racial subjugation. The enemy expected her to return from Brandfort diminished, broken and defeated. They expected her to succumb to the excruciating pressure of years of excruciating pressure of years of solitary confinement, harassment and vilification. Instead, she emerged from these torments emboldened, driven by a burning desire to give voice to the asipirations of her people. To give them hope. To give them courage. To lead them to freedom…Like so many of our people she has lived with fear, pain, loss and disappointment. And yet each day she rose with the nobleness of the human spirit. They sought to denigrate her with bitter and twisted lies, but still she rose. They wanted to see her broken, with bowed head and lowered eyes, and weakened by soulful cries, but still she rose. As we bid her farewell, we are forced to admit that too often as she rose, she rose alone. Too often, we were not there for her.” If there was any doubt about where she was going, God left no doubt. Just as the military pallbearers made to carry her casket at the stadium for her last journey, the heavens poured tears of joy. She is in a good place.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/winnie/