The South African flags and of the university are flying at half-mast. SMU Community joins the rest of the country and indeed the world in the 10 day mourning period for Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who died on 1 April 2018, at the hospital. The mother of the nation, as she is affectionately known by millions, was 81 years old when she succumbed to a short illness.
Perhaps, no descriptive better exemplifies the strength of character of Winnie Madikizela- Mandela than this African proverb – “More mogolo o we le, thaga t꙼꙼sa lla botsororo” meaning, the Baobab tree under which all sought shelter and succour has fallen, leaving many exposed”. She was the first medical social worker, working at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, during the dark days of Apartheid. Her home in Soweto, has been a home of refuge for many.
The abuse that Winnie Mandela was subjected to, for her beliefs, is unimaginable. Separated from her husband Mr Nelson Mandela who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela had to metaphorically hold the knife on the sharp end as, a young mother.
She was dragged from her house by police one night, in front of her two little daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, who looked on in tears, as she was bundled in the back of the police van, when she was detained. She spent eighteen months in gaol, in solitary confinement, sleeping on the cold floor. When she was released from detention, she was forcefully removed from her home in Soweto in 1977 and banished to Brandford, in the then Orange Free State.
All these and more brutal acts, visited upon her, sought to coerce her to submit and also to squash the popular uprising to Apartheid that the masses of the people of South Africa were embarking upon, under her leadership.
What her torturers sought to achieve, by violating her human rights, had an opposite effect. Instead, it sharpened her resolve to defy and overcome all that the Apartheid state unleashed against her. Fed up with obeying the banning order which restricted her to Brandford, she broke her banning order and relocated voluntarily back to her home in Soweto from where she continued leading struggles of the masses of her people to end Apartheid. Her home in Soweto became a refuge for young and old who had to escape their own homes out of fear of detention, arrest and persecution by police.
Some of the people she harboured in her home were security police informants the most notable was Mr Jerry Richardson, who was the coach of the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC). Richardson murdered Mr Stompie Seipei for which he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It transpired that Richardson was a spy and Seipei became aware of this. Seipei was on the verge of exposing Richardson by informing Winnie Mandela that Richardson had been an SA Police spy. Richardson, in attempt to prevent Seipei from exposing him, murdered the teenage activist and blamed it on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Police investigation and the subsequent trial of Richardson exonerated her from involvement. Whilst she played no part in the murder, her detractors still hold this against her even though she had been exonerated from this murder.
After the first democratic elections, which the ANC won, she was appointed deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, in the first post-Apartheid Government which was led by her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela. She was fired from this position, by President Mandela and she became an ordinary member of parliament until her death.
She delivered a key note address at the graduation ceremony in 2009, when her grandson, Dr Zinhle Dlamini graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB), at the time when the university was a campus of the University of Limpopo (UL) with which it was merged. The late Nelson Mandela also attended the graduation ceremony of Dr Dlamini, their grandson. Dr Dlamini is the son of Ms Zenani Mandela and Prince Dlamini, of the Kingdom of Swaziland. May her soul find eternal peace.