Winnie Mandela on the exceptionalism ascribed to Nelson Mandela

"Mandela was extricated from the masses. He was made an idol, almost Jesus Christ! This is nonsense, a lot of nonsense."

Image by Gill de Vlieg

Writing about the passing of the South Africa’s first democratic president and former resistance figure, Nelson Mandela, the French journalist Stephen Smith wrote about Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Nelson’s wife throughout his time in prison and a resistance figure in her own right:  “… if any one person can stand in for the country, it’s surely Winnie, half ‘mother of the nation’ and half township gangsta, deeply ambiguous, scarred and disfigured by the struggle.” He also quotes Ms Madikizela-Mandela on what she thinks about the hero worship of her former husband (in the London Review of Books):

Mandela was extricated from the masses. He was made an idol, almost Jesus Christ! This is nonsense, a lot of nonsense. The freedom of this country was attained by the masses of this country. It was attained by the children who gave their lives in 1976, who faced machine guns with stones and dustbin lids. It was attained by women who were left to fend for their families. They fought the enemy! We are the ones who fought the enemy physically, who went out to face their bullets. The leaders were cushioned behind bars. They don’t know. They never engaged the enemy on the battlefield …

* BTW, the featured image in  this post of  Winnie Madikizela Mandela at a memorial service (at Khotso House in Johannesburg) on October 18, 1985. She is with Pauline Moloise (left), the mother of Benjamin Moloise, a poet and worker activist who had been hanged earlier that morning on death row by the South African prison services (Image by Gill de Vlieg).

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