Winnie Mandela: thoughts from our scholars
As an organisation that was founded in the anti-apartheid movement, we at the Canon Collins Trust believe in the power of activism for social change and through our scholarship programmes aim to support the future change makers of southern Africa to reach their true potential. On the day of Winnie Mandela’s state funeral, we therefore have been asking scholars to contribute their thoughts on how Winnie has influenced their own lives, and why her legacy is so important to the Canon Collins community.
Shamiso Mandioma PhD in Development Studies at the University of Western Cape: “Winnie Mandela understood the power of the people on the grassroots level. Therefore she was capable of mobilizing the masses to fight from below for a just and equal society.”
“Winnie Mandela’s life story is a phenomenal one. It demonstrates that fighting injustice is not a walk in the park. It requires a huge amount of courage and a great deal of bravery. Although she met fierce resistance from the apartheid regime her story reaffirms that as women we are very much capable of contributing to the socio-political aspects of our societies in so many ways. Indeed, she has demonstrated that despite my background, gender, race and class l can make a great contribution to society as long as l remain resolute and committed to do so.
Despite the challenges that she faced in her quest for social justice, Winnie Mandela remained focused on the end goal, which was the freedom of South Africa. Broadly, Winnie Mandela understood the power of the people on the grassroots level. Therefore she was capable of mobilizing the masses to fight from below for a just and equal society. Her struggle against apartheid demonstrated in so many ways, that without the support of the masses governments can rule for a long time but they will eventually collapse.”
Lenny Walter Mkhari, MA Art and Culture Management, University of Witwatersrand: “To engage in politics and works of activism did not make her any less of a woman.”
“…Those who are outside prison walls are simply in a bigger prison because the black man is virtually a prisoner, and all those other fellow whites and other groups that are oppressed as we are, we are all really in prison, in a bigger apartheid prison.” Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
“Growing up in Mzilela Village in Limpopo Province in the early 1990s, I heard about the struggle in South Africa that took place before I was born. I would be lying to say that I have experienced and been exposed to more apartheid violence since I was born in 1989. However, I have had an opportunity to see the aftermath of apartheid, the damage it caused to our life.
My family have also suffered through being dispossessed of their land. So, one of the most iconic struggle figures that intrigued me was the late Winnie Mandela. This is not to say that she was the only struggle icon as there were also male liberators who played a vital role in terms of fighting for democracy in South Africa. However, given that in African black communities there was a patriarchal system that prevented women from taking the lead, Winnie Mandela stayed strong no matter how families, different communities and friends criticized her. She has gone through violent experiences that include being arrested under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and spending more than a year in solitary confinement, where she was tortured. After she was released, she continued her activism and was jailed several more times. Through her commitment in struggle and activism, Winnie Mandela became president of the ANC Women’s League in 1993, and the following year she was elected to Parliament. I find it inspirational and motivational that a woman could be on the frontline of such a struggle for liberation in Africa. I believe that her being an activist opened doors for black African women to recognize that it is possible for a woman to stand on the frontline. Winnie Mandela gave women a voice, that even if you are a woman you can get down and dirty in the struggle. By dirty I mean doing the work, being in the frontline, sacrificing and still being a woman. To engage in politics and works of activism did not make her any less of a woman.
We have goals that we wish to achieve in this world. What I have learned from Winnie Mandela’s life is that the way to success in relation to achieving your goals is not straight. There are many challenges, but challenges do not necessarily mean failure. If you have determination, commitment and perseverance you can make it.”
Jonas Nzabamwita, PhD Development Studies, University of Western Cape: “Her heroism shows that when you are fighting for a good cause, you will always emerge victorious.”
I’m not from South Africa, but in my view, I would describe Winnie Mandela not only as “the mother of the nation”, but also as “the mother of the world”. Despite the negative reports about her that we used to see in the media a few years back, Mama Winnie Mandela fearlessly fought for the freedom of South Africa and stood there for black South Africans. She constantly resisted harassment by the forces of apartheid regime, which led to her imprisonment of which many years was in solitary confinement.
As an anti-Apartheid struggle icon, Mama Winnie fiercely protested the unjust apartheid law and tyranny. She also spoke against wrongdoing. This made Mama Winnie become the voice of the voiceless, especially the black population which was discriminated against. Her activism connected the youth with the ANC, which in turn influenced many to join the struggle, ultimately bringing a radical change in the South African political landscape.
In simple words, I think Mama Winnie Mandela epitomised the struggle and liberation of black people and her political life caused a big change. As future activists, Winnie Mandela is an inspiration to us, and her heroism shows that when you are fighting for a good cause, you will always emerge victorious. This encourages me to continue the fight against any discrimination, be it racism, xenophobia, patriarchy, gender-based violence and other social injustice.