Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: A woman way ahead of her time
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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: A woman way ahead of her time

How many female icons can you name throughout history without the help of Google? 

Faith Daniels Profile Picture
Faith Daniels

Two words in that question will make it hardly impossible for you to go beyond five I would guess, at best - female and icon. That is at the core of what Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is and was though. Like the words, she was complex. In the wake of her death, the world is describing her in so many ways and it is struggling to do so adequately. Some want you to remember her as the fearless freedom fighter and activist she was, others don't want you to forget that she was marred by controversy and scandal. 


She was all of those things. She was never just a sinner or a saint. She was both. She was human and will be loved, remembered and revered for her trailblazing steadfastness to march to the beat of her own drum and not just as the former wife of the first democratic President, Nelson Mandela. 


It's almost an impossibility to think that we could still view her otherwise - in just one way, even though the layers run deep. In life however, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela reminded us in her ways and manner, that the world and our society in particular, aren't always ready and acceptant of a woman who dares to stand out from the crowd. We'd like to think that we live in such a "woke" society, yet our patriarchy trips us up many a time. It is that deeply entrenched you see. It does not reveal itself in what people boldly and loudly say, it rests in the crevices of our societal and work cultures we create and give air to. Society finds it difficult to deal with women who challenges consistently. It found it difficult to deal with Winnie because the notion exists that somehow difficult women must be dealt with, they must be reminded of their place in society. That place of course is never at the forefront of anything. It is always in the background, always supporting, never leading. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela paid no attention to this notion, in fact, she turned this notion on its head throughout her life. And so, it's a struggle to just love her or hate her because quite frankly, it's not that straightforward. This is an earlier quote of hers on patriarchy: 


"The overwhelming majority of women accept patriarchy unquestioningly and even protect it, working out the resultant frustrations not against men but against themselves in their competition for men and sons, lovers and husbands. Traditionally the violated wife bides her time and offloads her built in aggression on her daughter-in-law. So men dominate women through the agency of other women themselves."


History books will tell us that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was also a qualified social worker, activist and mother - who in her role as freedom fighter placed everything else on the backburner, focusing instead on liberating South Africa and living to see the country ushering in a new democracy. It is in this new democracy where she made another pertinent contribution - seeking audiences and speaking to the youth, the political movers and shakers, encouraging, earnestly speaking, criticizing and just giving advice. At this time, she also did not shy away from speaking out against her own political home, the African National Congress, saying in 2017: 

"All what we fought for is not what is going on right now. It is a tragedy that he lived and saw what was happening, we cannot pretend like South Africa is not in crisis, our country is in crisis and anyone who cannot see that is just bluffing themselves."


She was a voice that could simply not be silenced. A voice that will speak and live beyond the grave. The mother of our nation. 


Rest in peace, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. 


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