By: Onawanda Mpanza
She had just four years to be with her beloved husband. Met in 1957 got married in 1958,1963 he was imprisoned for 27 years. But Mama Winnie committed her life to the marriage for 38 years of which most of them were spent as a single, married woman at a tender age of about 25/26. Two girl children to raise all alone, fighting the apartheid system with her all. Constantly in and out of jail, tortured, confined for 18 months to see no one, moved to a different town but she came out sane and with more oomph to fight the more.
Her strength and boldness is a wonder. Studying social work was a calling for her, a woman willing to sacrifice her comfort, peace, being with her children for our freedom. Her vision of a free country drove her to never give in to the pain and surrender.
But what breaks my heart about her life story is to build up and keep a movement running for years. Only to have the husband you had been longing for, to two years after his release request a divorce. Can one imagine the pain that went through her soul. Mam Winnie had paved the way for her husband and paid a dear price. What he went through in jail is a fraction of the excruciating moments she went through. I shudder to think of all the things they did to her as a female in those jail cells, the discomfort of being on that time of the month with no access to what you need, moved from place to place without things a woman needs to be comfortable. Sometimes all alone for months on end, not even knowing who took care of her children or if they were safe and fed daily. But she never gave up, in the hope of a better country.
To have your husband drop you after all that surely left a deep wound in her. The podium and applause he was enjoying were prepared by the same wife, he suddenly found to be too much and tainting his image. The movement had decided to use him as the face of the movement because of how she had fought for the struggle in order to get the west involved in fighting the regime with us.
How could the same man that was willing to forgive the oppressors that took away so many years of his life and tortured his wife and family be willing to forgive them so easily? And the wife that kept the torch burning to be left at the sacrificial altar. On his death bed she was with him even though he had remarried.
Our heroine needed to be loved too but she never got that. In my humble opinion i believe he should have stayed with her for years until he passed on because how can one truly not be able to forgive the wife that had done so much for you and the country you were fighting for? What was so unforgivable when comparing with the oppressors actions that he couldn’t forgive in her?
In another interview in 1994 when she was asked about possible reconciliation she said, “I am not fighting to be the country’s First Lady. In fact I am not the sort of person to carry beautiful flowers and be an ornament to everyone.” Previously it had been alleged they were divorcing because she had, had an affair with someone during his time away. But that statement shows us clearly that, that was not the reason at all. After all the work she had put in preparing the table for everyone to eat off, her husband wanted her to become a soft, ‘wife’ material type of woman. Suddenly have amnesia on how hard she had worked before he was out of prison for the very freedom and rewards that came with being hailed a hero.
To me she will always be the heroine that had unreturned love when she needed it the most from the man she had professed her love too and prepared the stage for. The world has honored her and given her awards, created movies and theatre plays, had a birthday party done in her honor last year but could all those things have healed her pain? We will never know. At 81, she has rested, the body that went through so much torture. To live until this age considering all she went through is another signifier that The Mother of our Nation was not made out of ordinary material.
Her heart has rested and pain forgotten. Inyama ye Mbokodo iphumle!