Winnie Mandela was a revolutionary. Winnie Mandela was an activist. Winnie Mandela devoted her life to fighting against racism in apartheid South Africa.
But when Winnie died this past Monday, she became ‘complex’, complicated, a woman who was latching onto the Mandela name for her own personal gain. That is how the media chose to honor her and dismiss the decades of life she sacrificed in the name of equality and human rights.
We have no problem praising male heroic figures who have had controversial personal lives, but the same rule almost never applies to female figures. Gandhi was well known for his disdain of Africans, and we all know about Martin Luther King Jr’s many extra-marital affairs. But we know better than to define these figures by their tumultuous personal lives; they are, after all, humans like us. And despite the complex histories of such figures, we still choose to highlight their accomplishments over their own personal faults.
We have to understand that Winnie Mandela lived through one of the most horrific and violent eras in modern history. She made it through apartheid South Africa- as a black woman. So for Al Jazeera to dismiss her as controversial, or for the Daily Mail to call her a ‘blood soaked bully’, is not only distasteful but insulting to the decades that Mandela devoted to fighting against apartheid.
It is with great sadness, accompanied by great joy, that we heard the news that Winnie Madikizela Mandela, the mother and the heartbeat of the revolution, had passed. The sadness that I feel and we feel is that this great woman of struggle has been called back to the only life-giver that there is, Almighty God Allah. But the joy is that the heartbeat of the revolution can never die. For the revolution cannot die until true freedom, justice and equality come to every member of the suffering Black people of South Africa and Africa, and all those who suffer injustice. When I visited South Africa on a chartered flight, when I stepped off the plane to fulfill an appointment with President Nelson Mandela, there was a man at the bottom of the stairs of the plane wrapped in chains. I looked at him and the journey continued to a beautiful five-star hotel in Johannesburg. And when we got out of our vehicles to go into the hotel that same man was there in chains. When I went up to my room I said to myself, and to others, he is telling us that South Africa is not yet free. Mother Winnie Mandela in our meeting said to me that the enemy’s promises of tens of thousands of homes and electricity were never realized. A political compromise for the sake of non-violence was made so we would gain political power, a national anthem, a flag, and a place at the United Nations. But, the yet unrealized dream of the ownership of the wealth of South Africa returning to the Blacks remains. So when I met Mother Winnie Mandela at her home and we talked, she still was the heartbeat of the revolution. And today under a new president with new vision, the compromise has ended and the struggle begins anew and again. This struggle can never end with an anthem, with the appearance of political power and lacking the substance of economic power. The heartbeat of the revolution will continue until every square inch of South Africa is liberated and once again in the hands of the Original Owners of that land… [Click the bio link to read my full official statement] #Farrakhan #WinnieMandela #SouthAfrica
Winnie Mandela’s approach to apartheid was unlike her ex-husband, who for the most part, espoused non-violence as a means to dismantle the regime. Winnie was a revolutionary who called for the most radical approach to ending apartheid. But can we really blame her? During her life, Winnie was subject to extensive torture, imprisonment, and even solitary confinement- all in the name of the anti-apartheid struggle. In her later years, many condemned her for supporting the South African governments seizure of white-owned land. But when you have seen and lived through the gross injustices and violence that Winnie did, it becomes easier to understand why she maintained her radical viewpoints towards the end of her life.
This isn’t to say that Winnie was a saint or that she didn’t play a part in the violence that the apartheid regime necessitated at times. As the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee published in their report, Winnie was indeed held accountable for the human rights violations she played a role in. And when it came to crimes that Winnie denied she was ever involved in, she still apologized to victims and their families during the TRC commission.
It isn’t fair that the media continues to demonize Winnie, even in her death. Most of us will never know what it was like to live through such a brutal and oppressive regime, and we will never experience the abuse that Winnie was subject to. No, Winnie was not perfect and we are not saying she was. But there is no doubt that she deserves recognition and respect for what she sacrificed in the struggle against apartheid.