This week has been a very sad week for me because as of Monday, Mam’ Winnie is no more…
I want to write to you Mambo because you are too young now to understand, but when you are older, I hope you will, that I needed to write this- woman to woman. We have seen a lot of death in our time, and it has been painful for many, and I intend for you to know why, for me and you, this is a great loss.
Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela was born in Transkei, the daughter of a teachers- sound familiar? She moved to Johannesburg to further her education and become a social worker. Mam’ Winnie was the first black, qualified social worker at Baragwanath- isn’t that something? She made a name for herself in her field and continued this name into politics. It is through her politics that she made the acquaintance of Nelson Mandela, and subsequently married him. It is important, Mambo, to remember that Winnie was not just Mandela’s wife. Winnie was Winnie, a mother and a grandmother, but apart from all this, my baby, Winnie was her own person, a strong, black woman- much like what I hope you are when you read this. So much of the material you will read from this time will continuously make reference to Mandela, but always know, she was her own person. That even before Mandela, she was very active in politics, more specifically women’s politics.
‘I’m not sorry. I will never be sorry. I would do everything I did again if I had to. Everything.’
Winnie once spent two weeks in jail, while she was pregnant with her first child. By the time you read this I am sure I will have mentioned how tough my pregnancy with you was. Winnie did not shy away from what she needed to do- no matter what the situation. In this state, where she could have been at home, she was not, she marched in the streets with other women and along with almost 1000 others, she found herself behind bars. Fight for what you believe in my daughter. I have not been as radical as Mam’ Winnie, but that does not mean you do not have an example to know, and emulate should you find just cause.
The overwhelming majority of women accept the patriarchy and protect it. Traditionally, the violated wife offloads her aggression onto the daughter- in – law. Men dominate women through the agency of women themselves.
While Mandela was in jail, Mam’ Winnie did not sit still and watch from the sidelines. She was active, arguably, it was her who kept Mandela’s name alive through her strong mindedness and willpower. She fought, tirelessly for her beliefs. She did this even when she had to be away from her own children for many years. Right now, you do not really know what a years is, but by the time you read this, you will.
Mam’ Winnie took to the liberation not just for herself, but for women all over the country. There are stories of her, outright defying silly laws that you will not experience, that divided us by color. Essentially girl, your granny and khulu would have been arrested for having me and your uncle K. Mam’ Winnie did not care for any of these divisive laws. She tried on all the clothes she wanted in Foschini for instance, when black women were not allowed to try on clothes in shops, and went about her life like she knew she deserved.
‘If you are to free yourselves you must break the chains of oppression yourselves. Only then can we express our dignity, only when we have liberated ourselves can we cooperate with other groups. Any acceptance of humiliation, indignity or insult is acceptance of inferiority.’
You will no doubt read a lot of negative things about Mam’ Winnie from this period in time, I cannot speak to whether it is true or not. What I can say to you, darling, is be discerning. Understand what the motivation was behind Mam’ Winnie’s actions and know that this shero, and many like her, bore the burden of freedom for the rest of us- in one way or another. She could have lived in her husbands’ shadow, but she did not. She carved her own path ( one she likely would have carved without him) and stood firm. Understand that a terrible, divisive and inhumane political system threw everything possible at Mam’ Winnie- save for death- and she stood. Understand that in them attacking her, she was stronger and louder.
Mam’ Winnie is a symbol of courage, of leadership, strength and willpower and my dear love, she is a beacon that all of us can follow, learn from, admire, respect and in a week like this week, mourn without reservation.
I brought you to her home today to bid farewell and pay respect to this iconic woman. I brought you here because I want you to live a life without the pettiness of titles, with passion; life where you stand firm by your beliefs, no matter what is thrown at you. A life where you take the lemons and make whatever version of lemonade you can that day- whether it is sweetened with honey or not. I will continue to teach you about these women in our history, Mambo, because they are part of the reason you have your name. Some of these women are in our family, most are not, but you will know. These are the women who made me know that real power is a girl child. The women who give us faith in our own journey as women. The women who make me shed tears of pride to be a woman myself.
For today however, let us dedicate ourselves to the memory of an unwilling Mother of the Nation.
Rest in power, Mam’ Winnie.