Huge crowds turn out for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's funeral

15Apr 2018
The Guardian Reporter
SOWETO, South Africa
Guardian On Sunday
Huge crowds turn out for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's funeral

TENS of thousands of South Africans have filled a stadium in Soweto for the funeral service of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a heroine of the anti-apartheid struggle but also one of its most controversial figures.

South African military personnel bring in the coffin at Orlando Stadium in Soweto for the funeral ceremony of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Shouts of “Long live Comrade Winnie” rang out around the stadium, at the beginning of an emotional service featuring prayers, tributes and the anthems that sustained those fighting for freedom in South Africa through decades of brutal repression against the racist regime.

Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been president since February, sat next to the two daughters of Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela, the Nobel prize-winner and former president. Representatives from African states and political parties joined many of South Africa’s best-known political and cultural figures to pay tribute.

Known as “the mother of the nation” and described as a “struggle stalwart”, Madikizela-Mandela died on 2 April, aged 81.

The funeral is the highest level that South Africa accords for someone who was not head of state.

Madikizela-Mandela, who was married to Mandela for more than 30 years, had a sometimes negative image abroad that contrasted with a deep and long-lasting popularity in her homeland.

In a tribute at the funeral, her sister Zukiswa Madikizela said “Mam Winnie” was “fearless, courageous and loving”, and proof that women were capable of being revolutionaries and leaders.

Swati Dlamini-Mandela, a granddaughter, said Madikizela-Mandela was “a proud black African woman who fought for …. the emancipation of her people”.

The Orlando Stadium is situated little more than a mile from the streets where Madikizela-Mandela lived during the darkest days of apartheid and where she lived until her death.

Thousands have signed a condolence book outside her home on a modest street in the Orlando West neighbourhood. “This is history happening. I couldn’t miss this. I am from Soweto so this is very important to me. I am very proud of her,” said Aloma Thomo, 40.

Madikizela-Mandela’s remains will be buried in a cemetery in the north of Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon. Her death has prompted a fierce debate within South Africa between her many admirers and a smaller number of detractors.

Born in the poor Eastern Cape province, Madikizela-Mandela’s childhood was “a blistering inferno of racial hatred”, in the words of her British biographer Emma Gilbey.

The young hospital social worker married Mandela shortly before the ANC leader was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason in 1962. During her husband’s 27-year incarceration, Madikizela-Mandela campaigned tirelessly for his release and for the rights of black South Africans, establishing a large personal following.

Tortured and subjected to repeated house arrest, she was kept under surveillance and, in 1977, banished to a remote town in another province.

Madikizela-Mandela said the experience of more than a year in solitary confinement changed her. “What brutalised me so much was that I knew what it is to hate,” she said.

As the violence of the apartheid authorities reached new intensity, Madikizela-Mandela was drawn into a world of internecine betrayal, reprisals and atrocity.

Most notoriously, Madikizela-Mandela was found guilty of ordering the kidnapping of a 14-year-old boy, Stompie Seipei, also known as Stompie Moeketsi, who was beaten and killed by members of her personal bodyguard in 1989.

Within a year, she gave the clenched-fist salute of black power as she walked hand-in-hand with Mandela out of Cape Town’s Victor Verster prison on 11 February 1990.

The end of apartheid marked the start of a string of legal and political troubles. Appearing at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to account for atrocities committed by both sides in the anti-apartheid struggle, Madikizela-Mandela refused to show remorse for abductions and murders carried out in her name.

Madikizela-Mandela separated from her husband in 1992. She was sacked from her ministerial post in 1995 after allegations of corruption and the couple divorced a year later. But her popular appeal remained strong.

In Soweto, she was deeply involved in the community, always finding time to help those in need, neighbours said. “Her doors were open to everybody,” said Angela Msimang, 32, who lived nearby.

At a memorial service in New York on Friday, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, described Madikizela-Mandela as “a strong and fearless woman. She had to fight patriarchy’s definitions of womanhood.”

A new memorial outside her Soweto home bears the legend: “‘I am the product of the masses, of my country and the product of my enemy’, 1996, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Rest in Peace, Mother of the Nation.”

Leadership role

The young Madikizela-Mandela grew up in what is now Eastern Cape province and came to Johannesburg as the city’s first black female social worker. Not long after, she met African National Congress activist Mandela and the couple married in 1958, forming one of the most storied unions of the century.

After Mandela was imprisoned, Madikizela-Mandela embraced her own leadership in the freedom struggle with steely determination and at great personal sacrifice.

For years, she was routinely harassed by apartheid-state security forces, imprisoned and tortured. In 1977, she was banished to a remote town to separate her from the heart of the movement she led in Soweto.

Disappearances, killings

It took a toll. When Madikizela-Mandela returned from exile she became involved with a group of young men known as the Mandela United Football Club, who were widely blamed for violence in Soweto.

They were accused of the disappearances and killings of at least 18 boys and young men and the group’s leader was convicted of killing a 14-year-old boy, nicknamed “Stompie,” who was accused of being a police informer.

In 1991, a court found Madikizela-Mandela guilty of the boy’s kidnapping and assault and sentenced her to six years in jail. She appealed and was found guilty of being an accessory, and the sentence was reduced to a fine and a suspended prison term. Madikizela-Mandela denied any knowledge of any killings.

Mandela divorced her in 1996, claiming infidelity and saying that after his release from prison, his wife made him “the loneliest man

Though she fought fiercely for democracy, Madikizela-Mandela floundered in a political career after the first free elections in 1994. Mandela fired her as one of his deputy ministers and her stints as a lawmaker, a post she held until her death, were lackluster.

At her official memorial service on Wednesday, family members and supporters defended her legacy against detractors.

“She gave everything she had,” said ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte. “For those of you whose hearts are unforgiving, sit down and shut up. This is our hero. This is our heroine.” Agencies