Mandela’s story would have died down quietly, voices of dissent would have been quieted and he may have been assassinated in prison; but Winnie refused to keep quiet
“sometimes i would have to raise that fist up alone, because the ANC members were too petrified and hiding. but i dont blame them, the Apartheid government were killing our people like flies”- Winnie Mandela
She spent only 5 years of married life with Nelson Mandela before his prison sentence;
It was not a conventional marriage; their home was constantly raided by the police, her husband was constantly in hiding. It was one treason trial after another and several visits to prisons and court rooms. As wife of a freedom fighter, that was the life she signed up for up.
In 1958 Winnie Mandela participated in a women’s demonstration against the infamous Pass laws and was arrested for two weeks. Pass laws allowed black South Africa to cross to white territories with a passport to show whom they were going to work for.
Through all these 5 years of chaos, they sired 2 children
14th June 1964;
The entire world was watching South Africa including the UN, White House and the UK. A very famous political prisoner was undergoing trial in Pretoria; his name was Nelson Mandela.
Almost everyone was sure the trial would end in a death sentence. Mandela had gone to secure weapons for an armed opposition against apartheid. That was treason punishable only by death. But the world was watching, Sanctions and isolation awaited South Africa if Mandela was killed.
In the course of the trial, Mandela was allowed to give a speech dubbed the Rivonia trial speech. A powerful speech that shook the entire court room.The hands of the Chief Judge shook badly as he changed a death sentence to life in prison.
“They think because they have put my husband on an island that he will be forgotten. They are wrong. The harder they try to silence him, the louder I will become!”
– Winnie Mandela
The apartheid government knew she could stir up some trouble; she had previously participated in demonstrations. They decided to break her before she can make any headway.
Banning and raids
“I missed watching my children grow up, I was never available to take them to school, help them with their assignments or find out how they were faring”
She was banned from moving anywhere outside her street, so she had to quit her job.
She was banned from entering any educational institution in South-Africa, as a result her kids had to go to school in neighboring country Swaziland.
She was banned from holding a meeting with more than two people and the media was banned from broadcasting anything she said. she disregarded her ban, attended a few rallies with fist held up she declared the struggle continues.
Jailing and brutal interrogation;-
“When they came to fetch me from my cell, I knew I either had to survive fighting or surrender”- Winnie Mandela
She was jailed for breaking her ban, after about one month in jail, she was taken to the headquarters of interrogation. According to her so many people have lost their lives at that place
She was interrogated for seven days and seven nights with no sleep or food. She dealt with extreme pain and welcomed the moments she fainted because according to her, It allowed her body to repair itself. She was tortured so badly that she was urinating blood and could not lift up her legs.
“Usually the first week in prison, it becomes very difficult to swallow a glass of water, and you lose your person and become an object to them”
After she was released, she continued her struggle, freedom for Nelson Mandela.
One of the mornings at about 3 am, they came banging at her door as usual, her kids aged 9 and 10 were tugging at her skirt and crying mummy don’t go; about 30 to 40 police men came to get her.
She was locked up alone in a dark cell for 18months. It was an experience that almost led her to commit suicide.
She was served terrible food and lived with no bathroom or toilet but two to three buckets with water where she had to do everything. She spoke to the cockroaches on her room floor because there was no one else to talk to; after 491 days. she was released from solitary confinement
She continued her struggle. she asked encouraged everyone to lend a voice- Musicians, song writers and all.
Banishment and exile
One morning there was the usual bang on my doors, I thought it was the usual arrest and jail time. I was told to follow them in their trucks. We were taken to the Free State. I was dropped at a 4 bedroom house without floors or ceilings, no running water or electricity and asked to live there.
She realized she has just been sent on exile” No questions asked about what would happen to her children.
Her place of exile was faraway from Johannesburg the centre of the struggle; to make matters worse everyone spoke Sesotho while she spoke Xhosa and with limited English literacy communication was difficult.
Then people were scared of communicating with her because the police warned everyone she was a terrorist under 24/ 7 surveillance
Winnie’s banishment to Brandfort backfired.She became a martyr and received important visitors like United States Senator Edward Kennedy . She got international donations with which she started a vegetable garden, day-care, self-help groups and a first aid clinic
Gradually she emerged a leader in the Brandfort community because she gave them hope.With time, she rekindled her campaign: there would be one man one vote, Mandela soon be free
On the down side, there were rumors of Winnie’s increasingly erratic behavior; her recourse to drink and her occasional bouts of violent behavior
“There is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known.”
– Winnie Mandela; 1987
The Apartheid regime had failed to stop her struggle or break her resolve. But they turned her into a mild case of a sociopath.
She broke her banishment and returned home to Soweto after 7 years; it was difficult to keep her banished or incarcerated because she was extremely popular at this time.
Her experience over the years reduced her to a combative and angry person. She created a militancy team that would become her body guards.
They became known as the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC). She gave them her home and provided for them.She also charged them to take back their country with match boxes, stones and sticks.
Mandela United football Club degenerated into a violent gang terrorizing Soweto. Things got worse when Winnie’s gang got infiltrated by secret intelligence seeking information on the ANC.
When Winnie got the news that Apartheid government informants had infiltrated her boy group, suspects were abducted and held. Among them were 14 year old Stompie seipei who was brutalized and killed on her orders. There were other alleged cases of murders and kidnap. she was brutal towards any sign of dissent
Winnie Mandela was charged for being an assessory to Murder.
Freedom is here!
After 27 years, Nelson Mandela and Winnie would hold each other again. The date was February 11th 1990.
Unfortunately, it was 27 years of very different journeys
Nelson Mandela and other ANC figure heads that were prisoners of Robbin Island occupied themselves to being politically inert studying and intellectual pursuits. They had each other’s backs in prison and most of the time were respected by the warders.
Winnie Mandela however found herself at the coalface of the struggle. She had suffered every indignity a person could bear, she was in and out of jail, the police raids were relentless, her house was routinely burgled, vandalized and even bombed. She was in front of the riots with the masses throwing stones and hurling sticks.
After the long walk out of freedom, it was a struggle to be one with each other.
She wanted Vengeance and punishment, he wanted peace.
He wanted devoted love and attention; she had a series of affairs and it was rumored another man still shared her bed.
The ANC had elected him to run for president, but she remained a liability with her running criminal murder trial.
He finally caved into pressure to divorce her.
Nelson Mandela became elected president without Winnie Mandela by his side to wave hands and share the moment. He compensated her with a ministerial position but fired her when she was accused of misappropriation of funds. She got nothing from his will after he died.
As South Africans Mourn her death; there are mixed feelings on whether she should be named saint or sinner; but I can help with that. Go back in time and walk a mile in her shoes. then we would talk