Winnie to help ‘streams of people’

Winnie Mandela is back in business as a social worker. She has opened an office in Soweto to deal with “the endless stream of people who need help”.

Mandela, who acquired the name Mama Wethu (Mother of the Nation) for her anti-apartheid activities after her husband, Nelson Mandela, was jailed in 1962, said she was often approached by Soweto residents looking for advice.

“My three-room house was too small to cope with all these enquiries — particularly from young people looking for bursaries, young couples seeking counselling and other advice,” she told the Weekly Mail this week.

Situated in Soweto’s Industrial Park, the Mandela Family’s Office has on its letterhead a photograph of Nelson Mandela. The office has a shrine for Robben Island prisoners. The walls are covered with photographs, including released African National Congress leader Govan Mbeki.

“It is definitely not an ANC office. It is an advice office, a welfare office specialising more in community work than dealing with political issues,” Winnie Mandela explained. “We deal with problems that cannot be dealt with in any other office or by any government department.”

Many of the problems emanate from homes of political activists where there are no breadwinners. “They are mostly connected with educational problems. There is nowhere they can go for such assistance. Parents want to send their children to open schools but the fees at these schools are too high even for working parents.”

A qualified social worker, Mandela started practicing in 1955 and continued until she got married in 1958. “The position of a social worker in our country is a very difficult one. When I married to my husband I became unemployed. Agencies that wanted to employ me risked their grants being withdrawn by the government. I am unable to work professionally because of that.”

According to Mandela “the public compelled me to open this office. Now the people can at least reach me. Now the people can at least reach me. They do not have to roam around looking for assistance. The public can find me here from 9am to 6pm.”

She said the two rooms were becoming too small for the steady flow of people, who start arriving before the office opens. However, Mandela says she has no capital to run the Soweto office.

  • Mandela ran a tiny clinic in Brandfort, which supplied food and medicine to residents. The clinic was wrecked in August 1985, allegedly by police. Mandela was banished to the tiny Free State town in 1977. She is trying to re-establish the clinic with assistance from German agencies
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    Mono Badela
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