|Mrs. Winnie Mandela with her daughters Zenani and Zindzi.
Photograph dated 13/04/1975. © Avusa
When Nelson went to Robben Island Winnie and the girls went with him too. In African culture where people do not usually talk about their feelings we wonder whether Winnie had anyone that she could have shared her deepest feelings, fears and remorse with or everyone expected her to be strong and keep the faith and see the big picture.
The story of Winnie Mandela is the picture of the reality of the armed struggle in South Africa. A common theme in the Mandela family is rage and anger and their pain can be felt even in her voice in the interview with Felicia Mabuza-Suttle. Winnie never knew what it was like to take her children to school as normal parents do something which she of course regrets, in addition she regrets and being separated from her children for long periods of time.
Winnie was arrested and imprisoned regularly forcing her to send her children to boarding school at Our Lady of Sorrows in Swaziland. The girls were practically orphaned and or raised by Helen Joseph a British white woman fighting for the black liberation that Winnie calls affectionately “my white mother”. Winnie Mandela is perhaps one of the most controversial figures in South African history through understanding her story one can see how apartheid transformed her mindset. Winnie was subjected to solitary confinement for 18 months. In addition she was interrogated for 7 days and 7 nights continuously and constantly tortured. She is a forgotten hero who gave up her life for the cause and paid a dear price personally.
While others believed in the cause too their husbands participated in mass stay- aways and strikes but they came back home. Other members of the ANC hierarchy lived in exile, the Mbekis and the Tambos to name a few which had its problems however Winnie and the girls live apartheid everyday and lived with the consequences of who they were; “Mandelas”. The name Mandela brought anger and resentment in government circles so they were constantly under surveillance and in most ways that can be ‘normal’ under those circumstances? Would South Africans have looked at Winnie any differently if she had said she would have rather had her husband back home than fighting for the cause of freedom?
Nelson Mandela’s first love was politics and so Winnie and the girls always came second; a place that they came to accept voluntarily or reluctantly we will never know.
“I will always prick their consciences and I will always remind them of the painful past they want us to forget, I will always be that person who makes their consciences when they want to pretend that everything is fine, South Africa is free.”
Winnie Mandela” in an interview with Felicia Mabuza.