If only we had more women of Winnie Mandela’s mettle

Friday April 20, 2018

By Anne Kiruku

East African News Agency, Arusha

The flood of tributes from around the world for the fallen South African heroine, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, acknowledged her great courage in fighting the apartheid South African regime.

It is the sort of courage that is sorely lacking in many parts of Africa, one that could propel women and nations across the continent from being pawns in the hands of politicians to people in charge of their own destinies.

Indeed, when Nelson Mandela was sent off to prison, where he was to stay for 27 years, it was his wife, Winnie, who kept the Mandela name alive.

Winnie Mandela

She was deeply involved in the struggle, leading the Women’s League of the African National Congress (ANC).

Sadly, her failings came to be magnified more than her contribution to the struggle and her perseverance in the face of adversity.

Naturally, it must have been extremely difficult for her as a young woman, who now had to spend nearly three decades of her life separated from her husband, and it is only reasonable to take such circumstances into account before anyone condemns her harshly.

It was a testimony to just how close she was to her supporters that she chose to continue living in Soweto even after the end of apartheid, when she could easily have moved to other posh areas that were now attracting the upcoming black political and business elite in the country.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s coffin is taken from the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, a township outside Johannesburg, during her April 14 funeral service. PHOTO | REUTERS

It is no wonder, then, that young radical followers and admirers eulogised her the way they did.

As Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, said, “She lived in constant naked contact with danger, prepared to lose her life, even the lives of her own children, who were put into danger by her political activities.”

It is the sort of courage that can make a difference in Africa. More than ever before, men and women of courage are sorely needed if Africa is to get out of the political and economic quagmire that it has been forced into by Western imperialism and irresponsible, puppet leaders.

Few women have come close to the former wife of Mandela in their courage. In East Africa, the late Prof Wangari Maathai clearly stands out.

In defence of the environment, she courageously opposed the regime of former president Daniel arap Moi when it came to protecting forests from land grabbers and other environmental interests.

Almost single-handedly, she ensured the shelving of plans to build a skyscraper in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, ensuring that it remains an open space for the public.

Unfortunately, the public rarely have time for revolutionary leaders, especially women. While she was winning international acclamation, for instance, Prof Maathai could not get re-elected as a Member of Parliament locally owing to political alignments.

Winnie and her ex-husband Nelson Mandela shortly after the former South African president was released from prison.

This is because voters tend to look at issues from the parochial perspective of ethnic loyalty to local power barons, financial patronage – even if the money being dished out has been looted from public coffers – and similar measures.

Given the rot that has now penetrated our societies, the almost bottomless public debt, the criminal looting and collapse of public institutions, and the neglect of critical social services such as health and education, it will take an army of Winnie Mandelas to undo the damage.

In a society where everyone first thinks of their own safety and welfare, it is increasingly difficult to find this rare courage, no doubt.

But there is a flicker of hope, again emanating from down south. Malema has led the way in this radical approach that needs to catch fire across Sub-Saharan Africa.

The recent victory in trying to bring about land expropriation without compensation should be the beginning of radical action to redress historical injustices not just in South Africa, but in East, Central, and West Africa as well.

It is a movement that has Western powers and their local puppets on tenterhooks. Black people need their land back. Former French colonies need to gain control over their own currencies and economies.

In East Africa, we must free ourselves of control by donor nations and multilateral agencies with their conditionality’s.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie

Throughout the continent, Western imperialist interests in gaining cheap access to Africa’s raw materials needs to be stopped, with all the attendant wars spawn by Western powers. To do so, more people of with the strength of Winnie Mandela must come forward.

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