Staff and students of Stellenbosch University (SU) this week (12 April) gathered on the Red Square on campus to pay their respects to freedom fighter and “mother of the nation" Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who died on 2 April at the age of 81.
Madikizela-Mandela, who struggled with a long illness, will be laid to rest at Fourways Memorial Park in Johannesburg on Saturday 14 April.
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Prof Ronelle Carolissen, Vice-Dean: Teaching and Learning of SU's Faculty of Education, delivered a tribute at the on-campus memorial service, speaking about her experience working with victims of sexual violence as a volunteer psychologist during the apartheid years. An extract from her speech follows below:
“As a Psychology student volunteer working with victims of violence and torture during the 1980s, I saw many Ma Winnies who were tortured, humiliated and degraded, both on the streets and in prison. I saw their families, and the fragmentation inflicted by an apartheid government propping up white privilege. Security police did not like opponents, their families or service providers like me.
I specifically remember one patient – a female MK soldier who had been raped by four police officers while imprisoned. As a clinical psychologist during the early 1990s, I listened to her story. And in the period following 1994, I saw many policemen, white and black, who were tortured by the gruesome memories of killings … of children buried in unknown and forgotten sites, and of families still looking for their children. I wish I was making all of this up.
How does one simply carry on living like an ordinary human being after all these horrendous and inhuman experiences?
During her lifetime, Ma Winnie did not have a chance to integrate with everyday life. She not only experienced the brunt of oppression herself, but also witnessed and shared the pain of other women and men. She was banished to Brandfort for nine years, kept in solitary confinement for 18 months, and was the only ANC member summoned to appear in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, despite all the rapes that had taken place in MK camps.
Over the past few days, I have heard so many white and black South Africans expressing outrage at all the lies and persecutory tales told about Ma Winnie. So, what do we do? Fake news is not restricted to a Trump world. Fake news exists everywhere, including South Africa. Fake news serves the interests of the ruling elite. As university students and academics, we have access to resources, platforms for debate and opportunities to educate ourselves about our country and the world. This is a privilege that few people have. We have to read and share stories from our communities. We have a duty to add more narratives when a single destructive narrative dominates. There were no perfect saints and no perfect sinners in South Africa.
Ma Winnie will forever remain a symbol of the disproportionate burdens that black women have had to endure. We recognise her immense and sacrificial contribution to South Africa. In this spirit, we extend our heartfelt, sincere condolences to her daughters and family. After all, Ma Winnie was not only the mother of the nation, but Zindzi and Zenani's mother too.
Rest in peace, Ma Winnie. Perhaps you will be better understood in death than in life. Perhaps you had to die for the truth to be told."
Several students at the memorial service also spoke to SU's Corporate Communication Division about what Madikizela-Mandela's legacy meant to them:
Bantubonke Louw: “When I hear the name 'Nomzamo', it reminds me of my mother, as it does every other African child. When they call her the “mother of the nation", it speaks to her motherly nature. It speaks to that spirit of care for anybody that she came across, which is clear to see in pictures and videos of all her interactions. While resolute about politics, she was a mother to everybody. She was a unifier and a nurturer."
Nomzamo Ntombela: “When we speak of Ma Winnie and her contribution to the liberation of the country, it brings into question the role SU has played in empowering its women, and women of colour in particular, to operate in leadership spaces, be holistically supported, and contribute to the liberation of other young women on campus. We don't have many women of colour standing for leadership positions on this campus due to years of historical erasure, and when I think of Ma Winnie, I think of how difficult it must have been for her to exist in such a male-dominated space."
Lonwabo Nkonzo : “The name Winnie Madikizela reminds me of when I decided to be part of #FeesMustFall. The struggle and what Ma Winnie stood for encouraged us to be vocal in the movement. Seeing women come to the fore, only for men to claim all the credit – that was something I found to be equally relevant today."
Simthembile Xeketwana: “When we talk about Ma Winnie, I think of a hero and a very brave woman. A mother who is proud and will do anything and everything to protect her children. I think of someone who puts the needs of others before her own. In some of the videos, we see Ma Winnie fighting apartheid police. In one video, she is seen telling the police that a boy they were trying to arrest was under-aged. She was a mother and a hero."
- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was born as Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela on 26 September 1936. She was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician, and the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela. A loyal member of the African National Congress (ANC), she served as a member of Parliament from 1994 to 2003, and again from 2009 until her death.