By Anita Estell
In Remembrance: Winnie Mandela – The Best Woman in the World
This is the last speech delivered by Winnie Mandela prior to her death. She warns that racism in South Africa is a continued threat and she implores women of color to work and fight for equality. She says, “We must not go back to that racism that drove us into the forest . . .” A must see, check it out!
Members of XXTRA Special and Free extend our condolences to the Mandela family and join with the people of South Africa in celebrating the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of human rights icon Nelson Mandela. Winnie Mandela died on April 2, 2018 at the age of 81. Known to the people of South Africa as “Mama Winnie,” Mandela is considered the “Mother of the Nation.” “Mama,” a universally recognized word, means “mother” in Swahili. Mourners filled the 40,000 seat Orlando Stadium in Johannesburg. Remarks by the Mandela grandchildren and great-grandchildren remind viewers of the relevance of the struggle passed and the one ahead: the need to work to ensure our children have unfettered opportunities to be free and productive citizens no matter the color of their skin or any other physical and nonphysical characteristics they may have.
I first learned about Winnie Mandela, when I was 16 years old. As a part of an AP research writing class, I studied nonviolence and learned of apartheid in South Africa. Over the years, the struggle for freedom in South Africa continued to capture my attention, and in the 1980s, I eventually joined campus protests demanding US companies divest of their holdings in South Africa. When I moved to Washington, DC, I had an opportunity to work with the first black South African Ambassador sent to the US following the release of Nelson Mandela from jail, Franklin A. Sonn. It was during this time I also met Bishop Desmond Tutu. Pictured right: Anita Estell with Bishop Desmond Tutu at the South African Embassy in Washington, DC, shortly after the release of Nelson Mandela from jail.
Bishop Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In that role, he asked Mama Winnie to apologize for alleged wrongdoings that occurred during Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island. Mama Mandela refused, asserting she could not be blamed for the vagaries of apartheid.
The film, produced by Pascale Lamche, has generated an outcry from supporters and opponents. But for me, who am I to pass judgement on anyone’s alleged imperfections? I am busy addressing my own weaknesses. In fact, who amongst us is without imperfection?
Just as “America” and its founding represent an ideal that recognizes all people (men, women and children) are endowed by the Creator with “unalienable” permission to be our best selves and live freely and happily, such is the case of the founding mother of South Africa. For millions of South Africans and people around the world, Mama Mandela represents the embodiment of an ideal intolerant of oppression and rooted in a passion for freedom and liberation (in the case of those not free). Before we had the box office hit, Black Panther and the gilded fictitious land of Wakanda, with fabulous women warriors in striking poses and attire, the world had a social worker, named Winnie, who emerged from the township of Soweto to liberate a nation.
Mama Mandela often is quoted as saying, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.” For all those diverse women warriors, and those victims of sexual assault that we recognize this month in the US, Mama Mandela’s refrain rings true. Mama Mandela deserves to rest in peace. Going forward, the best way to honor her contributions and sacrifices is to manifest the higher ideals for which she lived and suffered. May these ideals unite diverse peoples around the world and guide us in our collective march toward freedom and equality, four ourselves and our children, and their children and so on and so forth.
The various narratives related to Winnie Mandela are layered with circumstances and accusations that trade turns exposing her strengths, achievements, vulnerabilities and imperfections. Most recently, the conspiratorial shenanigans of a community of male adversaries black and white to discredit her have been released. Many of the troubling details associated with efforts to discredit Mama Mandela are recorded in the recently released documentary film, Winnie.