(I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that) I didn’t know much about Winnie Mandela, besides the fact that she was married to our first black president and world-renowned struggle activist, Mr. Nelson Mandela. She passed away two weeks ago and little by little, I am discovering more about this iconic example of what it is to be human. The kind of human that inspires greatness in anyone who openly listens to her story.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
I learnt that she was a social worker – the first qualified, Black staff member of Baragwanath hospital in Johannesburg. How fitting then, that she would marry the man who would become a symbol of freedom and a democratic South Africa.
She would be a great warrior woman alongside Madiba – holding and shining the torch of light when darkness descended on her from every direction possible. Separation from her imprisoned husband, constant interference to the schooling of her kids from security police, having to experience frequent and unwarranted raids at her home, being dragged away from her screaming kids and forced into police vans, thrown into solitary confinement and imprisonment for months on end and tortured for information pertaining to political activities involving her comrades. As if this wasn’t hard enough to deal with, she also faced many instances of betrayal from those around her faking support only to inform the apartheid government of her whereabouts. Can you imagine that? The banning of her geographical movement led to the loss of her job, on top of everything else.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
The government of the day feared her tenacity and catalytic nature so much that they eventually had to keep her as far away as possible from the people of Soweto – banning her to a small town called Brandfort for eight long years. The oppressive regime of the time should have known that a flower of her stature will bloom in all circumstances and is likely to blossom at it’s most beautiful under harsh conditions. In the community of Brandfort she contributed to making it better for the people by establishing a gardening community, sewing club, an organisation for orphans and young teens prone to getting into trouble, a creche and a mobile clinic. Now that’s what I call a superwoman!Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Her revolutionary nature was also expressed through her regal style of dress. As her daughter said in a speech at the funeral – she always ensured that she looked dignified, despite attempts from the apartheid government to demoralise the very nature of being black. She was a personification of the words beautiful, powerful and revolutionary. Although she and Madiba split before he became president of the new South Africa, in my view she will always be THE first lady amongst first ladies.Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images
Many women of our country have been wearing all black and donning a doek (or headwrap/scarf) – a look that epitomises her iconic style and honours the memory of her extraordinary heroic life. Along with wearing the symbolic look is the #IamWinnieMandela, a hashtag I view as a challenge for us to adopt her fighting spirit. A fighting spirit that prizes dignity for all and derides the mistreatment of another.
What does the hashtag #IamWinnieMandela mean to you?Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images