Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: Hamba Kahle mama we Mzansi Afrika

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: Hamba Kahle mama we Mzansi Afrika

– By Nkululeko Makhubu

– 04 April 2018

Leaving home heading to the City of Gold

Born as Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela in the humble Eastern Cape village of eMbongweni, in the Transkei 26 September 1936. She met lawyer and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela in 1957. They were married in 1958 and had two daughters. Sadly she left us on the second of April 2018.

It is my hope that Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is revered as an African anti-apartheid activist and an idol of a strong-willed female politician. Her legacy was truly more than just the ex-wife (married from 1958-1996) of the first black South African president, Nelson Mandela.


Education as a Liberator

There have been mixed emotional narratives over the years surrounding her hard-fought personal and political career. As academics, at the Observatory of Student Politics Higher Education Research in Africa ( we wish to focus on results of her influence on student movements and her anti-white tyrannical pedagogical contribution to the education landscape of not just South Africa, but to global consciousness.

Both her parents, Columbus and Gertrude were teachers. Columbus was a history teacher and a headmaster, and Gertrude was a domestic science teacher. Her mother died when she was nine years old. Despite this family, tragedy went on to become the head girl at her high school in Bizana.

Despite restrictions on the teaching and learning of blacks due to The Bantu Education Act, 1953 (Act No. 47 of 1953; later renamed the Black Education Act, 1953), Mandela earned a degree in social work from the Jan Hofmeyer School in Johannesburg Class of 1955, and several years later earned a Bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand.


Would history recall her as a qualified Social Worker, a Politician or an Activist?

In the mid-50s she became the first black medical social worker at the largest hospital in Africa, Baragwanath Hospital. According to SA History Online, Mam’ Winnie was already politically interested and involved in activism long before she met her future husband.  She was particularly affected by the research she had carried out in Alexandra township, appalled at the high infant mortality.

During her time at Baragwanath, Mam’ Winnie’s reputation began to grow, with stories and photographs about her appearing in newspapers, acknowledging the achievement of this girl from the Transkei who came to Johannesburg and looked to be making a name for herself in the City of Gold.

Under the banner of the African National Congress (ANC) political party of her beloved Madiba, she served on the ANC’s National Executive Committee and President of the Women’s League.  She served as a Member of Parliament from 1994 until her death and was a deputy minister from 1994 to 1996. Madikizela-Mandela was known to her supporters as the “Mother of the Nation”.

Africa’s biggest history archive, South African History Online states Mam’ Winnie had influential presences in her life: chief amongst them were Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph,  Albertina Sisulu, Florence Matomela, Frances Baard, Kate Molale, Ruth Mompati, Hilda Bernstein(who was the first Communist Party member to serve on the Johannesburg Council in the 1940s); and Ruth First.


Her Role in Student Politics

Mam’ Winnie understood that the youth is the future and that her cause envisions a prosperous, free South Africa for all. I believe only through equitable education and active student participation can the country’s mindset break colonial apathy. That well informed visionary student leadership can generate nuance that challenges white oppression.

By the mid-1970s, unrest amongst the South African youth had become increasingly volatile. Steve Biko (also born in Eastern Cape) had founded the Black Consciousness Movement in 1969 as a riposte to what he saw as unhelpful white liberal paternalism. The formation of the all-black South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) followed soon thereafter. The struggle for liberation in South Africa was increasingly being taken up the country’s youth and Mam’ Winnie found herself settling into a new role to as the symbolic mother to this burgeoning student movement.

In May 1976, just a few weeks before the famous student uprising in Soweto, Mam’ Winnie along with Dr Nthatho Motlana helped to establish the Soweto Parents’ Association. In the weeks that followed the violence of June 16, Herself together with and Dr Motlana had their hands full attending to youth and parents who had been arrested, injured or killed in the riots.

In my view, Mam’ Winnie much like Malcolm X at this stage adopted a freedom By Any Means Necessary strategy. A translation of a phrase used by French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre in his play Dirty Hands. It entered the popular civil rights culture through a speech given by Malcolm X at the Organization of Afro-American Unity founding rally on June 28, 1964.

Black Past recalls his famous words which I am sure Mam Winnie and Biko supported:

“We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary. We don’t feel that in 1964, living in a country that is supposedly based upon freedom, and supposedly the leader of the free world, we don’t think that we should have to sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a President from Texas in Washington, D. C., to make up their minds that our people are due now some degree of civil rights. No, we want it now or we don’t think anybody should have it.”

Standing up for what’s right sometimes needs different thinkers depending on the generation and a shared understanding of the struggle. Depending on what side of the privilege fence one stands, can we decipher what is right, and what is wrong. Who gets what, when and how.


Thanks to Mam’ Winnie the month of April will forever be a Global Civil Rights Movement Awareness period for me

I mean it, the awareness comes from connections with several role models I had growing up.

Firstly, Today marks the birthday of also late American poet and activist Dr Maya Angelou born in 1928.

Fittingly she once said: “You can’t use up creativity,” she stresses. “The more you use, the more you have. It is our shame and our loss when we discourage people from being creative. We set apart those people who should not be set apart, people whom we assume don’t have a so-called artistic temperament, and that is stupid.”

Secondly, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically killed today in 1964.  Fittingly he once said: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Thirdly, April the second Dr Winnie Madikizela-Mandela passed away. Sadly her own country could not even award her an honorary Doctorate. In January 2018, the University Council and University Senate of Makerere University, Kampala bestowed the honour in a timely fashion. They approved the award of an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree to Winnie Nomzano Madikizela-Mandela, in recognition of her fight against apartheid in South Africa. The SABC only published this the day after her death, whilst New Vision, Uganda’s leading daily newspaper did on the 19th of January 2018.

lastly, in a few days, April 27th marks the joyous Freedom Day. Tata Mandela amongst millions of other black South Africans had cast their votes for the first black President under a post-apartheid democracy in 1994. Internationally, Mandela received more than 260 university honorary awards over a 40 year period.

Needless to say: “Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world”

mam Winnie Mandela

Caption: Winnie Mandela marches with a crowd of youths in the Brandfort Township (Getty)

May the dearly departed watch over the struggle for black emancipation over white monopoly capital, may their life lessons and teachings reach leadership in Africa, the Diaspora and the world over.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: Hamba Kahle mama we Mzansi Afrika. translation: “go well, Mother of South Africa” in isiZulu.











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