Winnie Mandela, a very controversial activist, passed away on April 2, 2018 at the age of 81. She was the often-beleaguered former wife of Nelson Mandela, the South African freedom fighter and member of the African National Congress (ANC) who became South Africa’s first Black president. Winnie and Nelson Mandela were freedom fighters, who ultimately had a role in the dismantling of the abominable system of apartheid. She was Nelson Mandela’s second wife. The conditions in South Africa were appalling for Blacks. Although they were a majority, the white Afrikaners controlled the country to such an extent that Blacks actually had to carry passes.
It can arguably be said that Winnie Mandela was the wind beneath her husband’s wings. She was only able to reside with him during the first six years of marriage before Nelson Mandela had to spend the next 27 years in prison, 18 of those on Robben Island. While he was in prison, Winnie carried on the fight. At one point, she was accused of the murder of a young man connected with her Mandela United Football Club. She was ostracized and castigated for years. When Nelson was finally released from prison, he was encouraged by members of the ANC, and possibly others, to distance himself from her once he was in line for the presidency of South Africa.
One thing is certain. When Black people decide to work for liberation, the red flags pop up and the individuals become targeted. This is done in many ways. Once upon a time lynchings and violent beatings were utilized to keep people in line. One of the favorite tactics, however, is divide and conquer. This is what happened to the Black Panthers and the US Organization founded 1965 in California. According to observers, the FBI created dissension between these two organizations by sending letters that implicated that there was animosity between the two groups. This successfully drove a wedge between them, which is probably one of the reasons that both ultimately met with their demise. When considering the foregoing, in hindsight, Winnie Mandela was a victim of this strategy. She was relegated to being the backup to Nelson, although she was a force of nature in her own right. In her latter days, she was far more radical than Nelson, which was bad for publicity. While Nelson was away, as said previously, she founded the Mandela Football Club, fondly referred to as “Winnie’s Boys,” and she proved to be as much of a threat to apartheid as her incarcerated husband. She refused to take a back seat to the men in the struggle, and this, no doubt, earned her a number of very real enemies. It was probably due to this that her reputation was sullied.
No one can say that Winnie Mandela was not a fighter. People may not have agreed with her tactics, but there is no doubt that she was one of the greatest fighters for Black liberation in South Africa, and by extension, for Black people around the world. There are few people who did not know her name. History will probably exonerate her and she deserves to be seen in her own light and not in the shadow of her former husband.
Winnie Mandela, unlike Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not non-violent. Her “Winnie’s Boys” allegedly committed heinous crimes against other Blacks who were thought to be traitors to the liberation cause. Although that may have occurred, there is something to be said about diverse strategies born of desperation employed in the fight for liberation. At one time, the venerable Malcolm X, presented the meme of freedom “by any means necessary,” yet later in life he renounced that strategy in order to take on a more mellow approach. Hopefully, Winnie Mandela had mellowed somewhat through the years. At the time prior to her demise she probably had the opportunity to look back on her triumphs and challenges with the fresh eyes of experience. Hopefully, she was at peace with herself at the end. We can say unequivocally, however, that she fought the good fight and did it her way! Rest in Peace, Winnie Mandela, consummate freedom fighter! A Luta Continua.