Why Winnie Madikizela Mandela's Legacy Is Being Debated After Her Death

Apr 12, 2018
Originally published on April 12, 2018 11:42 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to South Africa where Winnie Madikizela-Mandela will be buried on Saturday. She died April 2 at the age of 81. When her former husband, Nelson Mandela, was in prison, Winnie Mandela became the face of the anti-apartheid movement, yet she was also accused of endorsing violence. From Johannesburg, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's house sits at the top of an incline here in Soweto where she lived among the people, the people who have come in their hundreds since her death to grieve, what they say, is the loss of their mother - uMama, they call her, uMama Winnie. Musicians are here, a brass band, to bid her farewell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

QUIST-ARCTON: Your name please, ma'am.

MOIPONE TAU: Yes. My name is Moipone Tau. The name Winnie to us meant that there is somebody out there who's fighting especially for the freedom of all South Africans.

QUIST-ARCTON: All week long, memorial services have been held in honor of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who was mercilessly hounded by the white minority regime while her husband, Nelson Mandela, later to become South Africa's first democratically elected and first black president, was imprisoned. Madikizela-Mandela came to symbolize tireless resistance during the apartheid struggle. She was held in solitary confinement and banished from Johannesburg by the apartheid regime and gained in stature when she returned.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINNIE MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: I am back with you where I belong.

QUIST-ARCTON: But Madikizela-Mandela's comments apparently condoning necklacing, the brutal method of placing a burning tire around the neck of suspected apartheid informers and collaborators, led to her being vilified and accused of political waywardness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADIKIZELA-MANDELA: With our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: That dented her reputation, and she was blamed for the death of a teenage activist Stompie Seipei. At her government-organized memorial service in Soweto yesterday, Madikizela-Mandela's eldest grandson, Bambatha Mandela, took issue with her detractors in his tribute to his grandmother. Addressing thousands of mourners gathered at Soweto's Orlando Stadium, he said her memory and legacy deserve more respect and honor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BAMBATHA MANDELA: We are hurt, and we will not tolerate your defamatory messages or disrespect. You must learn to respect this legendary individual who has mothered a nation instead of behaving like ungrateful children.

QUIST-ARCTON: Bambatha Mandela said, behind every great man is an even greater woman, adding that queens raise kings.

(CHEERING)

QUIST-ARCTON: Yet debate about Madikizela-Mandela's transgressions persists. Her fervent supporters question why others who were apartheid-era criminals have not been held to the same high standard. Asked for her view, Moipone Tau, who you heard earlier praising Madikizela-Mandela, said you don't speak ill of the dead.

TAU: Mama - I'm an African girl. I'm an African woman. I think when somebody has passed away, we talk about the legacy, things that Mama did.

QUIST-ARCTON: In his tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, veteran politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi said since her death, many have asked whether she was a saint or a sinner. Buthelezi added simply that her former husband, Nelson Mandela, believed a saint is merely a sinner who dies trying. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Soweto.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA VEIRS SONG, "SONG MY FRIENDS TAUGHT ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.