Slice of Life: Guarding the legacy uMam’Winnie

I feel proud to be a security guard here, even if the house is burnt and damaged, because I’m guarding uMam’Winnie’s legacy and her memory. Maybe 10 people come here a month; they come to see the house and only ask me for permission to take pictures. Sometimes they ask about uMam’Winnie’s comrades, and I take them to see her friends. I know them all. But what I have to be careful of is the ­nyaope boys.

I was born here in Brandfort and grew up here. I’ve known about uMam’Winnie ever since I was a child. We used to sing those songs, freedom songs, about her while passing her house. Some of my friends were scared to speak to her because their parents told them not to. But now I’m happy to be working at this house we used to run past when we were small.

In fact, in every job I’ve done I’ve been connected to uMam’Winnie. Before I started working here I was the security at the orphanage around the corner that she started.

When the orphanage stopped paying for security, I became unemployed. During that time I used to walk past here and see how the clinic and house were being destroyed. Every day it was a little bit worse.

Then in December the same people from the orphanage hired me to be a security guard here. I don’t get much, ja, but at least it’s a job and I can be proud because I’m guarding uMam’Winnie’s old house.

In January after I started, the nyaope boys came here again to make a fire or do those drugs. I was waiting at the gate and they didn’t see me. One of them walked in and I knocked him down. Yho, they ran away so fast. I shouted at them: “Hey, tsotsi! Do you know whose house this is?”

These nyaope boys will never come here now. They know me and I know them, their parents or siblings. They won’t touch this house again. — Matshidiso Mpopetsi, 38, a security guard at the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela House and Museum in Brandfort, Free State, as told to Govan Whittles

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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