‘The Rock of rocks’

Tribute to Ma Winnie Madikizela-Mandela by Lebo Ramafoko - CEO of Soul City

Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo' – When you strike a woman, you strike a rock is one of Africa’s most beloved dictums. If these words had only just been penned for Ma Winnie Madikela-Mandela, they would ring loudly through the centuries. She was, for oppressed children, women and men everywhere, the Rock of rocks.

This resistance song became emblematic of the courage and strength expressed at the Women's March of 1956, when SA women across the colour and political marched against apartheid’s evils. Winne was, quite simply, the Mandela we knew. She was present in the townships alongside young people, some still children, who had sacrificed their childhood to liberate this country from a repressive political system.

There are many things she will be remembered for. On a personal level, as a black woman who dares to live and speak her truth, I wish to thank Ma Winnie for showing me that you can be a black woman and confront all of your enemies without fear. When I am afraid and I close my eyes and know that she never let fear stop her, I gain the strength I need to hold my head up high, own my views and express them, regardless of who they will make uncomfortable.

The apartheid state rightly feared Winnie. The Nationalist government used the age-old tactic of vilifying her amongst her people. This was a deliberate and vicious propagandist tool to bring a black woman leader down. The strategy failed spectacularly.

However, few could have imagined the pain that would define Ma Winnie’s singular sacrifice. Few could have foreseen the lioness’s courage as she kept Madiba’s memory – and his fellow Rivonia Trialists -- alive during his long incarceration.

Few could have imagined the physical and mental scars that would be inflicted on her by apartheid’s brutal henchmen when she was imprisoned and beaten, especially at Brandfort.

Few could have anticipated her unbending principle in not accepting the findings carte blanche ( in relation to allegations against her)  -- of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Arising from this, some of  Winnie’s comrades betrayed her after 1994. As a woman, it was convenient to treat her as a liability when democracy had dawned. She had fought the war but victory belonged to the men. She was an inconvenient truth. Patriarchy made it easy for the men who worked hard to consign her to the dustbin of history. Like apartheid’s henchmen, they failed miserably.

Our human-rights based constitution, lest we forget, was watered by the example of the visionary anti-racism and egalitarianism of Ma Mandela. Her contribution was in fact unequalled, despite the futile attempts of some (nearly all male) revisionists today. With Adelaide Tambo, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Ma Albertina Sisulu Ma, the new nation’s mothers, she embraced the emerging democratic framework, flawed as it was that emerged from the negotiations.

Although she was the Beloved Mother of an entire nation, Soul City is conscious of the fact that she did not receive the dignity and honour she deserved in her later years. Leadership of this golden standard is a lonely place. This, I sense, was especially true for such a warrior woman, who lived her life in the bright headlights of public opinion.

Finally, Ma Mandela was a much loved mother and grandmother. In the end, parents live on through their children. She bequeathed to the nation two wonderful daughters. Our hearts are full of sorrow for them.

Although Ma yesterday awoke in glory; and she is more herself than she has ever been, Winnie’s external and internal beauty will never be extinguished from our hearts and minds.

Although she ‘belongs to the ages now’, we will try to emulate her example every day of our lives at Soul City.

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