Winnie: The mother who chose to defend her children

Winnie: The mother who chose to defend her children

What is and what was, what could be and what will be, where we were, are, and will be, when it will happen and how it will occur, these are all promontory entities that form the core of our relative being on earth; and relative we are because all we do and its reaction are on average indeterminable, and the best that we can do to improve their scale of determination is to use the main tool available to us: choice.

What we choose may determine what occurs after the execution of such a choice with regard to our wish, our goal, our target and all that is yearned for or whose occurrence is necessary to effect that which women and men dream of: change. Change is born of choice, and all that comes after one selects a certain method or course of action is to a large degree dependent upon what they choose to do to effect the desired change. It is not a random process guided by the voices of the masses, and it is neither a result of wisdom or prudence, it is more likened to being a fate one cannot choose, but that which comes upon one as rain does in the midst of spring.

The point at which we have to choose how the future should be arrives unannounced, and when that moment arrives, one should at least be ready in their mind to accept that which they cannot change, and to have the courage to act when they should. I watched the documentaries and film-biographies on the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela over the weekend after her funeral and I was hit by one aspect: the great become great because the choices fate throws their way force them to make choices that at the end of the day are felt by all concerned and unconcerned.

Chauvinistic for a long time, I have always been one that held the misconstrued view that women’s rights often tended to ignore the rights of men. The watching of the life of the woman that bore the brunt of apartheid on her family, her neighbours and nation state of South Africa and Africa changed my egotistic male view on the true essence of women in human society. For them to give birth to us but still be considered second (even third) class citizens is utterly wrong and is in actual fact that which has seen human society remain bogged in the swampy marshes of regression.

We fail as human society because of our patriarchal tendencies that do not acknowledge the full expanse of the contribution of women in our societies. Mandela and company languished in re-education on Robben Island, Winnie and her sisters in arms took the rabid hound of apartheid by the tail, plucked its teeth out, and rendered it an impotent mutt.

In her own words, Winnie did not choose to get married to Nelson, and she puts emphasis on the fact that she had not for a second thought that she would be the great figure she ended up as. What she shows is that fate oftentimes just points a finger at one and orders (through occurrences uncomprehended) that one’s path in life changes its trajectory.

Faced with the reality of the moment, the human figure is left with only two choices: to give in to the desires of the oppressor/ion, or to stand up and fight. Only those that face the leviathan and use the power they have shall be remembered for time eternal as the warrior son of Peleus, Achilles states just before the siege of Troy.

Isolated (banished) to the Free-State town of Brandfort (Majoe-Masoeu) Winnie could have stopped her political activism ad become the docile creature that was pliable in the hands of the oppressors as was the wish. Instead, her educational background and her demeanour kicked in, for she was raised as a boy and having herded cattle growing up, Winnie could fight; and fight she did for the rights of the Brandfort community and the oppressed nation. Fate threw a choice her way and she followed the right path as a result.

The Roman statesman and orator Cicero (106-43 BC) in his masterpiece De Inventione, posits: “Genuine reasons for actions can always be formulated in terms of aims or statements of goals . . . ”

Such figures as those that end up being the luminaries of their time and age end up so largely due to the choices they make, and these choices are the ‘genuine reasons’ that influence the ‘actions’ that at the end of the day summate the full breadth and totality of that which they become, that which they do, and that which they will be remembered for at the end of the day.

A choice needs to be based upon a genuine premise or concern, and in the life of Mama Winnie, the systematic fragmentation of her family and society, the denigration of the black and minor groups of the South African society by the apartheid government led to the decision to be what is in parlance termed ‘freedom fighter’: a thorn in the side of the racist system and a threat to the relative comforts of a minority that sought to thrive at the expense of others.

The 1976 student uprising against the inculcation of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools became her moment of epiphany. Her maternal instinct kicked and erased any of the fear that she faced on the regular from the security police. Gathering the bodies of the children shot in the protests, one can only guess her pain as a mother, but one cannot experience its full effect on her psyche due to the simple fact that men do not give birth to children and can therefore not feel the pain of the death of a child as women and mothers do.

She and other matriarchs must have felt the pain of their children, the children forced into the warrior role of their fathers who languished in jail cells or cowered in shebeens drowning their shame in barrels of cheap brews and papsak (cheap wine made from the dross of fermented grapes). Everyone has their moment of revelation, and it is that point in time where the coward of the county chooses to stand up and fight their molesters, to put to silence the jeers and the booing.

It does not take voodoo practice to change the course of time; it often takes just one second to decide what to do next and to stick with the repercussions of the decision. Winnie Mandela became not only the hero of her party, but she became the symbol of true womanhood, expressing it in her resolute decision to stand her ground despite or inspite of the unsavoury possibilities resulting from the apartheid authorities. She chose her path and was willing to bear the full load.

Of what happened post South African independence, of the stories one hears on her life, on her divorce from Mandela, I stand not as a judge, but as a figure that understands the frailty of our humanness. I understand that we are forced to bite the bullet when the conditions demand that we go against the grain or swim against the tide. Winnie Mandela is a model for the choices one should make in the course of a single lifetime, and listening to the recordings, there is one feature in her words that counts far above the rest, her frankness.

She was not one to work really hard at impressing people at the expense of her personal freedom; she was not one to mince her words with trivial niceties for the sake of being loved. Instead, she told it as is and in the process gained her freedom and the freedom of the women and the children who suffered the most in the days when apartheid ruled the land. The right path is that which begins with the right intention to correct some wrong which is preventing us from living as we rightly should, not as some tyrant wishes us to live for the benefit of his personal wishes. If we choose to be right, we first have to right ourselves like she did standing up for her children and the children of other women in her society.

The issue of making choices may at first seem easy, but the truth of the matter is that it is hard. Choice leads to actions, and such actions become the seen result of the decisions we made in our private quarters. How one chooses to follow a certain course of action does not simply hinge on being right and being wrong, it gets its proper basis on the possible outcome after it is executed. The now is only present as a platform or podium from which one can map their way into the future, and this means that the decision one takes focuses more on the prevalent possibilities than the current realities.

In his De Inventione Cicero defines actions when he speaks of cases where, “some disadvantage, or some advantage is neglected in order to gain a greater advantage or avoid a greater disadvantage . . . ” departure from the normal is often frowned upon, but the reality (present and prevalent) actually counts more than the set norm sometimes. Winnie did not choose to be what she became, like she says, she was born into it and was forced by circumstance to choose the path she took for the rest of her life.

We can distinguish between three possible sources of purpose in the field of life: The general purpose aimed at by the individual in the decision process (perhaps ‘to earn a living’ or to live comfortably enough), the communication purpose aimed at by the words or events in the current situation (perhaps ‘to render the masses aware’) and the specific purpose aimed at by a particular strategy or procedure, for example, Mama Winnie’s decision to fight literally in order to expose the fallacies and structural flaws of the apartheid system.

Purpose is the direct result of the target one seeks to achieve, we can only attain what we call purpose in life if we follow the dreams we envision for ourselves and our human society. All men and women are born equal, and it is wrong if some begin to think they are more equal than others despite their having to share the same basic spaces on an ordinary day. The ruling minority of her early days served a contradiction in that they had a domestic force of workers drawn from the oppressed masses. They could well have been poisoned, their offspring harmed, their houses looted, but it did not occur because at the most basic the filial human instinct kicked in and saved the world.

In her days at Brandfort, Winnie showed that we are all similar despite or in spite of our delusions of grandeur the oppressors felt. She shopped in ‘Whites Only’ stores, she walked the pavement as whites (blacks were not allowed to walk the pavements but had to walk ‘in’ the road if a ‘baas’ or ‘madam’ was approaching), and she was feared for instilling a spirit of dissension amongst the blacks living in the location. Seen as inciting the spirit of uprising in the ‘k****’ masses, she chinned on for the next nine years after which her long incarcerated husband was freed.

Winnie chose not to walk where she would be knocked over by the traffic, instead she risked encounters with racist whites who thought they owned the pavement. Largely embroiled in accusation most of her life, she stands vindicated by history as the mother figure that chose to defend her children and her turf when others sold out to askari-hood. I guess her choosing the path she took opened the world’s eyes to the possibility that we too can remember a humanness our vices sought to erase from our ethos. The world is now a better place because of the choices such as her made in their lifetimes.

We have to stand up for our rights as a choice, but standing too for the rights of those that cannot defend themselves is the more honourable deed. Lala ngoxolo Mama Winnie.

Thank you for making the simple aware of the power of choice and following the right path to reach a better destination for all of humanity. Thank you.

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