Real-life mother of the nation

In many ways, it is fitting that it is Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda that acts as our chaperone into this powerful documentary on struggle hero Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life. Both women have lived their lives in the shadow of towering figures and yet their roles as backers, advisers and influencers of these men have often gone uncredited.

In Madikizela-Mandela’s case, the myriad forces jockeying for position as apartheid was unravelling necessitated that the radical Madikizela-Mandela be separated from her husband for dark forces to “work on him”, as she puts it in this 97-minute doccie.

Winnie, directed by German filmmaker Pascale Lamche, channels the spirit of arts activist Peter Makurube, who facilitated Lamche’s introduction to Madikizela-Mandela and pushed for the project to be made “when the timing was right”, as Lamche told her audience at the Encounters Documentary Festival premiere on June 3.

Winnie is a forthright attempt at rectifying the propaganda-fuelled discrediting of the mother of the nation, a project that started at the height of apartheid and continued well into democracy.

Lamche picks from extensive interviews with Madikizela-Mandela (four sessions, each of them several hours long), fusing these with grainy archival footage of apartheid South Africa. This fuzzy footage is in turn juxtaposed with technicolour images of a new, yet largely unchanged, contemporary South African landscape and complemented by snippets of Madikizela-Mandela’s public persona and her memorable declamations.

The interviewees, chief among them Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, with whom she was banished to Brandfort after the 1976 uprisings, biographer Anne Marie du Preez Bezdrob and lawyer and activist Dali Mpofu (with whom she had an intimate relationship while Nelson Mandela was incarcerated) make a strong case for a closer revisiting of Madikizela-Mandela’s history. But, of course, there are also foes.

Victor McPherson, who headed police strategic communications, seems dazed and gleeful in recounting the extent of the propaganda mobilised against her. Former spy boss Neil Barnard appears to be still drunk on his own ego, revealing the apartheid state’s hand in just how much they worked on Mandela in the period leading up to his release, even trying to influence his first public speech as a free man.

(Robben Island/Mayibuye Archive)

Hearing Madikizela-Mandela recontextualise the murder of Mandela Football Club member Stompie Seipei and the manner in which she was publicly vilified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission make for the film’s climax. The club was ridden with spies and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s self-righteousness exposes the patriarchal underpinnings of the increasingly questioned rainbow nation.

By squeezing an apology out of Madikizela-Mandela, Tutu was, in fact, squeezing an apology out of all the women who have ever had to carry their families while men were away labouring and struggling.

In this sense, Tutu was playing into the hands of the dark forces’ narrative of “saints and sinners”, as daughter Zindzi put it. As the ruse goes, Madikizela-Mandela was the dodgy sinner who had cheated on her husband and Mandela was the saint who had been wronged by a philandering wife.

Lamche’s film, quite secure in its bias to tell Madikizela-Mandela’s untold side of the story, succeeds in turning this narrative on its head.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

Related stories

Bring ‘empathy’ back to Nedlac

Lisa Seftel started out in the labour movement before she took up positions in government. Now, as the head of Nedlac, she has to create a space where both sides can meet to discuss and debate important policy issues

February 11 1990: Mandela’s media conquest

Nelson Mandela’s release from prison was also South Africa’s first ‘media event’. And, despite the NP’s, and the SABC’s, attempt to control the narrative, the force of Madiba’s personality meant that he emerged as a celebrity

Court orders EFF to apologise for Gqubule and Harber ‘StratCom’ claim

The Johannesburg high court says the EFF had brought no evidence to back up the allegation

It’s hard to build a credible opposition. Ask the Nigerians

To dislodge a winner like the ANC you have to do better than point out its weaknesses.

Malema’s dreams of kingmaker, or even king

In the post-Zuma political landscape, it is possible for the EFF to throw its support behind the ANC in exchange for posts

Banyana suffer 2-1 loss against Netherlands

This was the first match of the year for both sides who were using it to kick-start preparations for the upcoming Women’s Soccer World Cup

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Inside the illicit trade in West Africa’s oldest artworks

Nok terracottas are proof that an ancient civilisation once existed in Nigeria. Now they are at the centre of a multimillion-dollar, globe-spanning underground industry — and once again, Nigeria is losing out

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

Entrepreneurs strike Covid gold

Some enterprising people found ways for their ventures to survive the strictest lockdown levels

Ithala backs its embattled chairperson

Roshan Morar is being investigated in connection with KwaZulu-Natal education department backpack sanitiser tender worth R4-million and a batch of face masks that vanished

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday