I have been blessed to have met and known many people over the years; from the infamous to the famous; the great and not so great, and many honorable souls. I have been in the presence of a few presidents, shaken the hand of Nelson Mandela, met Muhammad Ali, famous Motown stars and many entertainers… on and on! However, none have impressed me more than this amazing woman I was allowed to call “Winnie” when I had the pleasure of meeting her.
The former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela–Mandela, is a South African activist and politician; in addition to holding several other government positions. She’s been the head the African National Congress Women’s League and a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee. I can’t count all the women I’ve known in my life, but I can honestly say that none rise to the level of this amazing woman, who has endured suffering far beyond that of any woman.
I am not trying to rewrite her story, rather give my impression of her from my encounters with the former Mrs. Mandela. Think about this for a moment; her husband was imprisoned for twenty-seven years, she was imprisoned, exiled, financial hardships, her home was bombed, endured attempts upon her life, and years of unthinkable horrors. What I find amazing is that she did this unselfishly for millions of South African’s she has never met. Most of the women I know would leave you for anyone of the above mentioned or as little as the common cold.
She was a controversial activist, yet popular among her supporters, and referred to as the ‘Mother of the Nation’. However, she was reviled by some South African’s while trying to help them achieve freedom. The ANC called her politically and morally accountable for the gross violations of human rights. We know from what our government did to Dr. King and Malcolm X, so personally; I am suspect of any of the public charges brought by the Apartheid government of South Africa.
She met the lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in 1957. They married in 1958 and had two daughters, Zenani (born 1959) and Zindzi (born 1960). Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1963 and released in 1990. The couple separated in 1992, and their divorce was finalized in 1996 with an unspecified out-of-court settlement.
I want to be clear when I say some will, I’m sure, take issue with my opinion concerning my view of her late husband, who as I understand it divorced her for political reasons. He could forgive his oppressors and jailers, yet could not forgive the woman who sacrificed so much and stood by him for all those years.
It is true that her reputation was damaged by such rhetoric as that displayed in a speech she gave in Munsieville on 13 April 1986. Where she endorsed the practice of necklacing (burning people alive using tires and petrol) by saying: “With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.” Further tarnishing her reputation were accusations by her bodyguard that she ordered a kidnapping and murder.
On 29 December 1988, a bodyguard, who was the coach of the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC), which acted as Mrs. Mandela’s personal security detail, abducted 14-year-old James Seipei (also known as Stompie Moeketsi) and three other youths; the four were beaten to get them to admit being informers. The body of one of them was found in a field with stab wounds to the throat. In 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault in connection with the death of Seipei. Her six-year jail sentence was reduced to a fine on appeal.
During South Africa’s transition to democracy, she adopted a far less conciliatory and compromising attitude than her husband toward the white community. Despite being on her husband’s arm when he was released in 1990, the first time the two had been seen in public for nearly thirty years and their thirty-eight year marriage ended two years later.
Ms. Mandela’s legal issues are in the public domain, and it’s your choice to Google if you like. What I will say from my perspective: “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” Lastly, I will say having the opportunity to be in her present was a life changing experience and will say proudly that I have yet to meet another woman who impressed me to such a profound degree. I know of no other woman who sacrificed so much for so many unselfishly. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…