They came to see the Mother of the Nation home

On April 14 2018 they came to fill Orlando Stadium and to mourn Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: the “Mother of the Nation”. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

On April 14 2018 they came to fill Orlando Stadium and to mourn Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: the “Mother of the Nation”. (Madelene Cronje/M&G)

They came to fill a stadium. Old, young, the unemployed, the middle-class, the rich – the ones who were living the promise of the struggle and those who had fallen on the wrong side of her caprice.

On April 14 2018 they came to fill Orlando Stadium and to mourn Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: the “Mother of the Nation”. The Madonna.
The Fallen Woman. The alleged plaything of patriarchy and the urban guerrilla whose agency could never be questioned. The Mother of Contradictions.

At Orlando Stadium, a group of youth, none younger than fifteen, toyi-toyed tirelessly under the concrete slabs of the north-western entrance to the stadium. Up and down they marched in an echo of the 1980s, the state of emergency, the brutalised South Africa of youths disappeared and murdered in cold blood. Of the necklace and the coffin.

A reminder that Madikizela-Mandela straddled generations because of her radical politics and her empathy for the oppressed.

They came as women, old and young, in their doeks and with clenched fists raised to “say goodbye” to the woman whose public appeal among the common people endured for several decades, always remaining relevant to the oppressed – from the unemployed youth to the university student facing down misogyny.

It was a kindredness recognised by Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter, Her Royal Highness Zenani Dlamini who, in her speech to a packed Orlando Stadium praised the “young women who stood up and took a stand of deep solidarity” with her mother in the #IAmWinnie movement - to counter “lies that had become part of my mother’s life” and that had been “peddled for so long about her”.

Dlamini was angry. She was Madikizela-Mandela’s daughter.

She highlighted the hypocrisy, some of it embedded deep within the ANC, much of it in South African society, that slut-shamed Madikizela-Mandela and cast her out as a “murderer”, while holding the men of anti-apartheid struggle to “different standards of morality”. 

Her view resonated with Beverley Tshlatshwayo, 42, from Pimville in Soweto: “Through her life she taught us that, as women, you must be strong and independent. By living our struggle, Mam’ Winnie gave us strength and bravery in our lives”.

The unemployed single mother of two, who is an organiser for the Economic Freedom Fighters, said Madikizela-Mandela had been an example to feminists from the 1970s until today and that through her life, an unbreakable bond had been created with all women in the country. She felt that Madikizela-Mandela had been side-lined and persecuted because her politics was so radical and dangerous for the male-dominated liberation movements.

Her view was echoed in a fiery speech by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, who railed against the “hypocrites” within her own organisation and the broader United Democratic Front, who had “sold you out”.

“You didn’t know your own organisation had been rendered incapable of loving you back… You were persecuted by the apartheid regime and disavowed by your own,” Malema said. He pleaded with Madikizela-Mandela’s spirit to come down because “we are waiting for a signal of how to treat” those who had desecrated her image while she was alive.

In a stirring speech, much of it spent addressing his mentor Madikizela-Mandela in the first person, Malema said she had died a “perfect death… the death of a revolutionary… because she never sold out”.

He pleaded with her to “come back” and give the crowd of over 30 000, and the watching world, an indication of what to do about the “widows of Marikana” and the people who killed the husbands of the widows of Marikana.

Malema recognised the presence of the Manaki Seipei, the mother of activist Stompie Seipei who had been murdered by Jerry Richardson, the coach of the Mandela Football Club during the fire and brimstone of the 1980s. Richardson, who later admitted to being a police spy, was convicted for Seipei’s murder.

Malema said he was not just there to represent the EFF, but also the country’s workers, miners, nurses and teachers, the landless and the unemployed.

Those who came to fill a stadium. The people brought to life by singer Thandiswa Mazwai’s performance of her song ‘Nizalwa Ngobani’, the people who suffer because “our dreams are drenched in blood and we don’t even cry”. The people who – from apartheid’s brutality to democratic South Africa’s broken dreams – had loved Madikizela-Mandela. And who she had loved back.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi

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