As the entire world mourns the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an activist, mother of Africa, and ex-wife of the most celebrated African president,
Nelson Mandela, former Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana (PII), says she is mourning the death of a friend and the woman who inspired her to take up arms and help liberate Namibia.
In memory of Mama Winnie, the Windhoek Observer Journalist, Kaula Nhongo (KN), sat down with Iivula-Ithana to discuss her relationship with the heroine and the legacy that she is leaving behind.
KN: Can you describe your relationship with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. How did you know her and when did you meet her for the first time?
PII: Mama Winnie was larger than life as we know; I did not have to meet her to recognise who she was. She came on the scene when I was young in the 70s. As such, the apartheid practice was glaring, especially to a young person pursuing education. The options for further studies were limited. One was forced to pursue certain areas such as nursing or teaching, which some of us felt was not our calling.
We were radical at the time to such an extent that we used to boycott school; we felt the atmosphere was just polluted with the practice of apartheid. Then there were some students who had graduated or attending university who were feeding us with what was happening that side, and that is how I knew about Winnie Mandela.
I got to know that there was a woman who was spearheading the struggle in South Africa (SA) because of her husband who we got to know was serving a long-term jail sentence. So we drew inspiration from her.
When I left the country I was motivated that women can make such a huge contribution towards the liberation of their country. So I saw the pursuit of education as worthless while the country was under bondage.
Why couldn’t I participate in the way that Winnie Mandela and others were doing in SA? When I went into exile, SWAPO and ANC operated almost like one; we were really comrades-in-arms and what pertained to SA and Namibia became one.
What Winnie was doing was a push on apartheid and I fell in love with her. Throughout my exile life I followed what she was doing and when we became independent, I saw Winnie for the first time in 1992. She was an inspirational person, well spoken, strong and beautiful. She is my only heroine.
When Nelson Mandela was released and stories about Mama Winnie started coming out, I sympathised so much with her. I strongly felt that whatever she had done in the name of the struggle could not be equated to the sacrifices she had made.
I was devastated that certain individuals in the South African community, particularly the ANC, started distancing themselves from her, which made me realise the world was so unfair.
Whatever Winnie had done was now covered and buried under the allegations, to such an extent that her husband, whom she had waited for 27 years, had to divorce her. There is nothing as painful as that.
When I recently saw videos disclosing what actually happened, I could not help, but think that maybe this woman was crucified just like Jesus Christ.
She never found peace on earth, and the truth is only coming out after she is gone. I feel the only way I can mourn her is if I can participate in her funeral.
That is my heroine; she has made me who I am today - a strong woman, a believer in the truth and I have drawn so much inspiration that I am able to withstand the challenges of life, because she has done it.
KN: What does her death symbolise to you?
PII: Winnie’s death symbolises the going home for everybody. I know that she must be happy now.
KN: What is your response to some of the controversial statements being made about her legacy?
PII: In all that happened to Winnie, I saw chauvinism; I saw an imperialist hand in the matters of running SA because in as much as the people of that country recognise Winnie’s contribution, the male folks saw themselves being outshined therefore the more she was sidelined, the better opportunity for them to move upward.
I also saw the world’s hypocrisy. If the world loved Nelson Mandela so much, why did they not intervene so that he could be released when he was energetic enough to do something in SA?
They waited until he was done away with by age and the circumstances in which they kept him. All of a sudden, they are glorifying him around the world, I see that as hypocrisy.
KN: What lessons do you think Namibia as a country can take from this, particularly how Winnie Mandela was not given the recognition she deserved when she was still alive?
PII: I am a feminist at heart and I saw what happened to Winnie as a chauvinist way of dealing with a strong woman. Men can rally behind each other and they can manipulate women to support their cause.
Winnie’s case just shows me how far the struggle for women’s emancipation is from realisation. We talk about it as if we have achieved it, but in reality we are far from achieving it, and it is so sad.