The contributions Winnie Madikizela Mandela to South Africa, in my opinion, far outweigh her mistakes in life. At any rate, who does not make mistakes on the stage of life?
It is unfortunate that upon her demise there are some who have chosen to focus on her shortcomings. There is a Latin saying: De mortuis nihil nisi bonum and De mortuis nil nisi bene, which means "Of the dead say nothing but good". This is not an invitation to change historical facts but an acknowledgement that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead.
And this is not confined to African societies but applies to all decent people. Of course, not speaking ill of the dead does not hold sway for the long term – otherwise we would have no recorded history - but in the immediate aftermath of a person’s death, it is generally accepted that speaking ill of him or her is simply inappropriate.
In the case of Winnie, the negative narrative around her has centered on the allegation that she was involved in the murder of Stompie Seipei – the teenage activist from Parys who was kidnapped and subsequently killed by a member of the erstwhile Mandela United Football Club. Denialists and Winnie's haters refuse to accept that she was not involved in the killing and no court of law that has ever found her guilty of such.
It took former Police Commissioner George Fivaz to set the record straight. Fivaz, in an interview with eNCA last week, said an investigation was conducted, following a request to open the murder case, and found the allegations against her were baseless. What I find particularly sad is that it took a police commissioner from the apartheid government to set the record straight on this, while some of Winnie’s comrades were still hellbent on pushing this narrative.
Also, I was heartened to read that Joyce Seipei, Stompie’s mother, believes Winnie was innocent of her son’s death and that she had made peace with her. If a person that close to Stompie believes Winnie was innocent, it begs the question as to what is the motive of those peddling this allegation. I can only conclude they feel threatened or personally diminished by the legacy of one of the greatest women who has ever lived in our country.
For the broader South African public, Mama Winnie Mandela was an iconic symbol of the struggle against the apartheid regime. When liberation movements were banned and political leaders imprisoned or driven into exile, she became a courageous voice against the apartheid government, something which made her a constant target of the security forces.
I was saddened to read that even her trusted football club members were being used by the apartheid government to spy on her. The brutality the apartheid regime unleashed on her knew no boundaries. She was detained, harassed, tortured and banished, but the courageous and ever defiant Winnie matched apartheid’s securocrats pound for pound.
Her fearlessness, militancy and focus kept the Struggle and the fight against the evil of apartheid going. She was a voice of the voiceless and inspired hope for the poor. She was never missing among the poor when they faced forced removals and calamities such as flooding and shack fires. Rightfully, her common touch with ordinary citizens and identity with the misfortunes of the poor earned her the title “Mother of the Nation.”
Tokyo Sexwale says of her that she was generous to a fault. Whatever he gave her in the form of resources always found its way to the more needy. There is something beautiful and godly about a generous soul and in this Winnie was probably more pious than some of us who regard ourselves as godly. Sexwale continues: “She has nothing. I can assure you, she died with nothing.”
Winnie understood what it means to come into the world with nothing and to leave with nothing – not because she did not have an opportunity to accumulate, but because she lived a life of being given. Given to the poor, the downtrodden, the voiceless, sometimes to her own peril.
We have lost a gallant fighter and as we mourn her passing we must also celebrate her courage and her legacy.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Madikizela and Mandela families, friends, relatives, the ANC, the Methodist Church where she was a member and to all South Africans who have been saddened by her death.
Winnie will always have special place in the hearts of millions. May her soul rest in peace. Hamba kakuhle Nomzamo.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND THE CO-CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)