The passing of Winnie Mandela is a matter for condolences to her family and the wider numbers of supporters who have been inspired by her strong resolve. It is a bittersweet remembrance of different stages of her life and actions. One thing is certain, most, if not all, black South Africans are better for her stoic and focused revolutionary zeal.
It is not at all strange for the revolutionary spirits that thrive on the action and thrill of the armed combat period to be unable to transition to peace. In fact, there are many examples that precede the South African examples.
1st Kings in the Bible recounts the story of how the chosen of God, King David, was prohibited from building the Temple to glorify God, as: “for the wars that were about him on every side, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet” (Chapter 5 v 3).
A couple thousand years later we had the eventual consolidation between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. It seemed that Che was really the man of war who could not stay still in the quieter and more difficult work of achieving consensus and a will to build a nation at a much slower pace.
That seemed to have been played out many times across history and fits with the concept of Yin and Yang. It does not seem to be a flaw of character but probably more an inherent personality suited towards two distinct objectives. Comedy has successfully used the concept of the straight actor and the slightly crazy to great advantage: Laurel and Hardy; the Marx Brothers; Charlie Chaplin; Bim and Bam; Miss Lou and Ranny; to name just a few.
So it was with the Mandela family, and not necessarily on a personality-based relationship, but rather a necessity-based story. It is a story of how when the Tiger has been trapped, the Tigress puts aside the motherly instincts and becomes the more feared predator, killing not only for food but to protect her offspring. Circumstances modify traditional rules where only the strong survive, and roles have to be reversed.
This human modification is frequently described in the aftermath of wars where the breadwinner or dominant partner has been killed or incarcerated. It is well portrayed in the Hollywood movies: Taken; My daughter is missing; Missing in Europe; and many others.
The transformation of a young Winnie is a story of carrying on a dream of the original protestor who was jailed. Over the years in prison perhaps Nelson Mandela had the time to reflect on the pros and cons of a less strident approach towards freedom.
Whereas for the unprotected Winnie, the war remained unchecked, and the blood of black South Africans ran in the streets. The relentless and criminal pursuit by the forces of Apartheid, the search for and elimination of the ANC rebels, and the total abuse of civil rights made the struggle grow into almost a full blown guerrilla war.
The West and other predominantly white countries tried to ignore the situation in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and in many ways little Jamaica took a stand that woke up the rest of the world. The two African countries gradually became pariahs and of all things, nobody would play cricket with them (a mortal blow). The division grew until it threatened the very raison d’etre of the British Commonwealth, (and cricket prevailed).
Twenty-seven years of incarceration must have been strained for a married couple and the Winnie of softness and love had become the Tigress that kept the struggle going. Their divorce was sudden and sad, and not the fairy tale ending that everyone had hoped for. The image of the hero riding off into the sunset was not to be, and whispers continue about the true hero or heroine as we look back.
Bob Marley sang; “who’s gonna stay at home when the freedom fighters are fighting – talking blues”. The story of freedom has many actors, and different faces, and in many ways focuses change and people have to adapt. To doubt whether Winnie and Nelson loved one another would be foolish. To say their love changed in its nature would be arguable; to say there was no love would be inaccurate; to suggest anymore would be merely conjecture.
There can be no doubt that the stars were Nelson and Winnie as the father and mother of a still growing child with all the faults and successes of its parents. No one can be certain of the eventual outcome of the fragile child, South Africa, but we must honour the contributions of Winnie and Nelson Mandela.
May her soul rest in peace, and may she be forgiven any transgressions in her mortal life. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.