When I think of life of Winnie Mandela I am reminded of a book by Shimmer Chinodya “Harvest of Thorns” which is a realistic portrayal of the disillusionment that many liberation heroes face when they come back home to the new world and find that they are in uncharted territory.
She was born Nomzamo “one who strives” Winfreda Madikizela to become the face of the struggle against apartheid alongside her famous husband who was imprisoned at Robben Island serving a life sentence for treason by the apartheid government for 27 years.
Winnie’s parents were Columbus and Gertrude Madikizela from Transkei area and were Xhosa and she grew up in Cape Province. Winnie’s mother died when she was the tender age of 9 and this undoubtedly had an impact on her.Most black people migrated to the urban areas in those days from different tribal lands especially to Johannesburg which was the epicenter of South African life and Winnie was no exception.
Winnie was an educated woman in her own right, the first university graduate black social worker in Johannesburg so she was amongst the few educated elite of the city. Nelson opened the first black law firm with Oliver Tambo and so as barrier breakers in the professional world Nelson and Winnie were bound to meet which they eventually did. When Nelson first met Winnie he was taken by her beauty as are most men were.
He wanted a new wife and she must have seen something in him that attracted her to Mandela and the two were married, she was just a tender 23 year old and her was 39 and divorced with three children and on trial for treason. That charges against Nelson may have made most women nervous but not Winnie; she believed in him and the two married in 1957. Winnie and Nelson dreamt of a new South Africa but they could not get there together after all that struggle she could not enjoy her status as first lady of republic of south Africa. they both believed in attaining independence by force but when he came back from prison he began advocating for peace, on the other hand Winnie wanted to see results before she could trust. their ideologies had changed in their time apart which made them incompatible to stay married. They just became two different people who viewed life in different ways shaped by their experiences.
The effect of Nelson being away for so long meant that Winnie became a so strong and independent that she did not need a man to tell her what to do. Whether she will ever admit it or not she too became so angry and filled with wrath due to her circumstances and experiences that she could not move on from her experiences. Perhaps the whole family would have benefited from counseling because surviving apartheid was a traumatic experience.
“If she had verbalized her frustrations would we have listened? We needed her to be strong but string for who? And strong for what?” She need love and support and after everyone poured out their heart to her who could she trust with the burdens of her heart?”
ANC had preeminence in his heart; after prison he wanted a wife but instead her heart had gone to ANC.