Picture: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela turned 81 on Tuesday. (Photo: indiewire).
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has for years remained the symbol of the true strength of women in South Africa leading the revolution to a free and democratic South Africa. She graduated from Jan Hofmeyer School of Social Work in 1955 and became the first black medical social worker in South Africa. Most of her adult life was confronted by brutal harassment by the apartheid regime and protracted separation from her loved ones. Winnie Mandela was born on the 26th of September 1936 in what was previously known as Bizana, Transkei.
Some, like I, would agree that the formation of military wings by South African liberation movements was a preeminent decision that nurtured the negotiations that led to a democratic country while others might label those formations as “legitimizing violence”. The Pan Africanist Congress formed Poqo, in 1960 and the African National Congress formed Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.
Renowned for developing an underground network operating to support the African National Congress’s (ANC) military wing, Umkonto we Sizwe (MK) in the 1960s in Soweto, for her imprisonment in Kroonstad, along with her friend Dorothy Nyembe until 1975 and for leading the Free Mandela Campaign alongside Walter Sisulu, Winnie Mandela is without doubt one of the most prominent woman in the history of the South African liberation struggle. She was a member of the MK and was accused of giving orders that led to acts of violence against people who were identified as being against the struggle for freedom in the 1980s. Her contribution to the liberation struggle dates back to the 1950s. She was first arrested in 1958 when she was the chairperson of the Orlando West Branch of the ANC and ANC Women’s league.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela served together with Lillian Ngoyi, Florence Matomela, Frances Baard and other revolutionaries of the women’s struggle on the National Executive Committee of the ANC Women’s League ANCWL). Consequently to the banning of the ANCWL and the ANC leaders such as Winnie Mandela had to operate under the banner of the Federation of South African Women and latter formed the Federation of South African Black Women which was banned instantaneously. She was arrested in 1976 following the Soweto uprising as she was involved in organising students against Bantu Education. Subsequent to her imprisonment she was moved from prison to Brandfort and was banned for nine years in 1977. Madikizela-Mandela was again arrested for defying her restriction order following her return to her house in Soweto as a result of her house in Brandfort being bombed twice.
After enduring nearly two decades of victimisation by the apartheid regime, Mme Winnie Mandela intensified her reactions to the government. She became known as an advocate for necklacing. In her speech in 1986 she stated that “with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country”, these were words of a women who had had enough of the brutal attack on her family and the entire black African nation. Mme Winnie influenced many other leaders to take the fight for freedom serious and destroy the enemy of the people. Winnie Mandela was a key leader in the resistance against apartheid and continues to have influence in a non-formal manner in the politics of the ANC.