By BARBARA HOWARD
April 1st, 2018 was Resurrection Sunday, otherwise known as Easter Sunday. But while I celebrated the basic tenet of my Christian faith – that Jesus lives – I also commemorated the 26th anniversary of the passing of my own son. So, I withheld the sadness until April 2nd, only to be made aware that another icon that I cherished had just passed.
South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation,” Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, had been one of the great warriors against the cruel apartheid government with her equally famous ex-husband and South African President Nelson Mandela.
As I read about her death and all the alleged so-called scandals that were rehashed in the various news outlets, I remembered the old African Proverb that said: “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter (Igbo, Nigeria)”. So I take all those accounts of her terrorizing people with a grain of salt.
But Madikizela-Mandela told actress Naomi Harris, who portrayed her in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, that was “the first time she felt her story had been captured on film” (according to Wikipedia).
I took a real interest in Winnie after I traveled to South Africa and visited Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island where he spent almost 30 years; as well as township in Soweto near Johannesburg where Winnie spent her time fighting the cruel and evil apartheid system. We learned how she was harassed, tortured, banned and even kept in solitary confinement for a period of time. I had heard about their struggles, but to be in close proximity to where they both suffered was a humbling experience.
When I traveled to Kenya, I was given the title of “Trade and Travel Goodwill Ambassador to Kenya” by the vice president and given the name “Momma Africa” by the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), but I had not experienced anything close to the torture and suffering endured by Winnie.
I also had learned that she was my sorority sister and had become a member of Delta Sigma Theta. That brought me even closer to her. She had become one of the two most significant black female icons in my life with C. Delores Tucker.
Beautiful! Brilliant! Courageous! Caring! Fearless! Faithful! What she accomplished will be felt by generations to come.
Ten years before I went to Kenya, Mrs. Mandela had won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and a few years later, she was awarded a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Then in 2007 there was an opera based on her life, entitled The Passion of Winnie. In 2011, Jennifer Hudson played Madikizela-Mandela in the film Winnie Mandela. And in January of this year (2018), according to Wikipedia, the University Council and University Senate of Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree in recognition of her fight against apartheid in South Africa.
So Winnie Nomzano Madikizela-Mandela passed on with a newly awarded doctorate added to her various other well-deserved awards. While the world heralded her husband, Nelson Mandela, as the antiapartheid hero, she was also recognized as the force behind him and later in the forefront of the struggle as she took his place when he was locked up behind those awful prison walls.
God bless her. She was a true hero. South Africa went from an oppressive apartheid system where the white minority ruthlessly ruled over the black majority, to a democracy where everyone could vote – in part because of her strength, courage, faith and resilience. All of South Africa should honor her forever.
Rest in peace, my sister. May the good Lord welcome you with open arms as He says, “Servant, well done. What you did for the least of them, you did for me.”