JOHANNESBURG – The nation is in a period of official mourning for the loss of the Mother of the Nation. In the aftermath of the passing of Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, many of us have taken it upon ourselves to share our encounters, moments and also opinions on her. Last Sunday the editor of the City Press, Mondli Makhanya equally as is his right shared with us his views on Winnie. Reading Makanya’s version “We must not want to be Winnie” which really advocates that she was no one to follow, emulate or aspire to be, one cannot but see yet another blatant attack on her identity, character, leadership and revolutionary contribution as is so common for some. His rendition leaves one stone cold to realize how deep the bigotry and misogyny mind can stretch.
Central to Makhanya’s remembrance of Winnie Madikizela- Mandela is what he depicts the wife who was missing in action, on the day Nelson Mandela’s supposed day of release. With this Makhanya seeks to share some salacious information if not airing some dirty laundry as he gives a face to the Winnie he remembers. He clearly agonizes over the fact that the icon Nelson Mandela according to him had to wait a few extra hours all because of his wife being missing in action. Makhanya with this attempt is trapped to understand Winnie Mandela only as the wife of Nelson Mandela, therefore in his prism, the fullness of her agency is because of him and by extension of being a spouse.
Thabo Mbeki in his interview does no different when he seeks to draw a distinction between the Winnie Mandela who stood with a placard in 1962 that read in defence of the leaders and the person she became. For Mbeki, this Winnie of 1962 was the right ANC cadre and person, you cannot but again see a male taking the latitude to determine her identity and agency in the correctness of behaviour in a liberation struggle history so often relayed from a position of either a claimed supremacy if not expediency.
Makhanya tells us “Madikizela Mandela must be praised for emerging from the shadow of her more prominent and powerful husband”. Makhanya fails to appreciate that it is Madikizela – Mandela that kept the name alive from the sixties through the seventies, and eighties until Mandela was released early in the nineties. She did not ask to lead, she was not elected to lead, circumstances forced her to assume leadership and she led from the front.
Makhanya thus seeks to portray a picture of a traditional normal family (husband and wife) when we all know the Mandela family was an abnormal family by all standards. Madikizela- Mandela herself is on record to have said ‘I was the most unmarried -married person”.
It is also not difficult to see Makhanya’s patriarchal mind glaringly on display where a male Nelson Mandela is considered natural and rightly more important his freedom and agony more paramount to that of the agony of his wife Winnie. Yes, a Makhanya is at pains to portray her on the eve of her husband’s arrest as in not so good company, in not-so-nice a location, and in a not-so-good state of mind. The latter must then refer to her being in an altered state of inebriation that she even on the eve of Mandela’s release was not able to be found.
We surmise in Makhanya’s understanding it is acceptable for a man to be in the not-so-nice location with the not-so-nice company of people, is not so acceptable spaces beside himself – it’s just not the right of a woman.
Makhanya’s one-eyed grasp of the liberation struggle does not afford him to appreciate the totality of the liberation struggle for black women in particular. It’s an analysis devoid of perceptive objectivity because he has long concluded that the fullness of what makes for a Winnie Mandela is less to be emulated.
Perhaps Makhanya’s own factional mind of an ANC organisation where he has his own heroes holds him carceral not to ask questions of those he subliminally bow before in political leadership worship. May I submit, it is this very mind that in an uncritical sense of objectivity affords some a right to attacking others by abusing the human legacy of an Oliver Reginal Tambo. This mind has predetermined and OR Tambo as a deity and not a flawed human being. We know some have done the same with Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi deliberately overlooking their flawed humanness.
We must remind Makhanya and all those who have determined to define and recast Winnie Mandela in a convenient straightjacket of being a wife, a woman, therefore, an extension of a man as not having agency. Winnie’s liberation struggle was not just against a white racist system that determined her identity as subservient, her status as citizen second class. But she, in addition, had to contend with the fish-tin thinking of a white male on what a black woman stands for. For most of them the object of shameful pleasure, which must never be revealed, those you could command to do for you as you so choose out of the privileges of whiteness. As if this was not enough the black women’s struggle’s worst enemy was and clearly remains patriarchy from its own ranks. The same patriarchy that haunts Winnie into her grave.
We need not go far, why does Makhanya not decry the fact that the ANC as always elected males who out of that same patriarchal privilege, evidence a compromised morality, yet found trustworthy to lead politically as astute. Why does Makhanya not have the same challenge with ANC male leaders for their known sexual indiscretions in the frame of a bankrupt morality? Makhanya makes up those who were quick to call revelations of such a smear and dirty tricks campaign, as a means of deflection from the fundamental issue of compromised morality.
We have in SA and its leading political parties an accepted doctrine that dictates an acceptability if not correctness of wrongful behaviour if it’s a male, however, females are not afforded the same privilege, because a patriarchal society has determined women as deriving their agency from males. When it’s a woman who stood accused of philandering she would automatically be considered of bad judgment, questionable in character, deplorable in leadership, hence unfit to lead and an overall sense bad for society at large. Makhanya’s thinking fits this sickening paradigm.
Another challenge one sees with Makhanya is his uncritical acceptance of some in the history of ANC leadership who are afforded deity status. The problem in ANC leadership politics is the deification of some. One has yet to come across a no holds bar critique on OR Tambo the man, the leader the individual, penned by ANC leaders and those who purport to worship OR. The absence of these objective reflections on the longest leader in the history of the ANC renders him in some sense a form of deity, we are therefore denied the Tambo who is a human flawed and questionable as all of us. The longest serving President of the ANC with at least 30 years, is rather narrated as a saint and it’s difficult to touch him in his humanity.
There were serious attempts made to cast Nelson Mandela in that same deity frame, yet his philandering flaws among others protested violently against his sainthood. Mandela never appropriated this iconic saint status that conveniently came to define him in life and beyond the grave. Yet somehow in the ANC there is never an honesty about the clay feet of its male icons, because it appears the issue of having a questionable morality in this frame for a dominant male movement with a very strong patriarchal footprint, males escape the scrutiny and is easily deified when females are not sharing that same privilege.
The denial of the humanity thus the flawed state of Tambo and Mandela is similar to the silence of some of the racist utterances against blacks of a Mahatma Gandhi. These are airbrushed and sanitized because we must have a specific iconic picture of Gandhi. Gandhi can escape the scrutiny of being interrogated for being a racist and thus shares a privilege whites generally do not share in SA.
The greatness of a Martin Luther King Jnr is acknowledged across the gender divide, yet he too as is recorded a flawed man and, in that sense, morally challenged.
Makhanya and many others who attempt being experts on warts and flaws of Winnie Mandela as means to disown her a right to be emulated have adopted this warped understanding of morality measurable with the faulty axis. One that it’s acceptable for a male to be flawed without it affecting or taking away anything of his capacity, respect, dignity and revolutionary leadership claims. Secondly, there is no correlation for a man to be morally challenged in unfaithfulness of philandering when there is a distinct and direct correlation for a woman rendering her incapable to lead, to be respected and to share in any revolutionary leadership claim while having a particular flaw.
Need we remind Makhanya that all human beings through the ages are flawed and found wanting. If his rationale of Winnie not to be emulated stands no one in history fits the bill to be emulated, not even those he worships in the correctness of what he most probably would call a centred morality. It cannot be that we view morality in one-dimensional sense of money corruption when we can have leaders who are morally challenged but are celebrated as astute.
Winnie Mandela is no ordinary person, she is much more than Nelson Mandela’s wife she has her own agency as a confirmed revolutionary leader who suffered the brunt of the apartheid brutality, who singularly dared to keep the ANC a banned organisation and the Mandela name alive.
If Nelson Mandela in any sense is upheld as to be emulated, we must all want to be Winnie. If Tambo is adored for being a revolutionary leader, Winnie is to be upheld as one. If Gandhi is held up as exemplary, Winnie Madikizela Mandela is worthy to be respected similarly. If Martin Luther King Jnr, is a beacon of celebrated humanity, so Winnie ought to be equally celebrated less in the night of Nelson Mandela’s release but in the totality of her undeniable contribution.
These are all human beings, brilliantly gifted, fallible, crowned with at least one default, who despite such made a unique contribution to society and humanity. Need we say it again, gender has nothing to do with it. Let Winnie rest in the same power as all these males that the world celebrates despite their known and unknown flaws.