As we get older, a lot of the innocent assumptions, about what is reality and what happened in history, get dispelled as naivete. This is particularly true when fighting an evil regime. There are acts that will get classified as crimes if viewed outside the context of conventional war. But in a war, we often see humanity stoop to disturbing lows as it aims to destroys an enemy that it fears might ruin it. Nothing in nature is as cruel as humanity, or as it should be called – mankind. Because it is males that have initiated and perpetrated every war in the history of humanity. It is men that have created the concept of concentration camps, genocide, colonialism, and every other act of cruelty enacted on other human beings.
In one of these periods in history, the oppression of native Africans by colonial Europeans all through Africa, but in this case specifically in South Africa – is where we find the story of Winnie Mandela. A controversial figure because on one side she was the freedom fighter, the mother of the nation, as many call her, the loyal spouse of Nelson Mandela, and loving mother that fought against one of the most heinous of regimes to have disgraced this planet. On the other hand, we read of mistakes that she made in her life. A complex figure, all human and tougher in resolve than any Afrikaner’s obstinance. The Afrikaner and its deluded belief that it was a chosen people, inspired by the progressively toxic interpretation of their Calvinist belief that gave it just enough reason for rationalizing all crimes against other races, lulled into a false sense of justification by complacent and corrupt clergy, was perpetrating one of the most evil of mass destructions of a group of people in history – not so much in the style of genocide, but in the systematic dismantling of all autonomy that the African once had, in order to cast these people into the mold the Afrikaner had created for them – the role of a slave.
To be clear, while this specific period in the oppression of other races was called Apartheid, the systematic and heartless dismantling of African social structures, in order to create a slave-race that would exist only to serve the European, and specifically, the Afrikaner, started in 1652 when the first Europeans arrived in South Africa. The history that followed that initial arrival is drenched in the blood of Africans and the tears of mothers, as ruthless white perpetrators ravaged a continent with the proverbial Bible stuck under the arm. Nothing is as destructive as a race that thinks they are allowed to be as cruel as the god of the Old Testament.
And so the era known as Apartheid arrived in South Africa, and the meager existence Africans were able to eke out under the oppression of the European was utterly destroyed by the most heartless of Afrikaner generations. Because by then enough time had elapsed in modern history of South Africa that someone like Paul Kruger and his activist clergy and historians could rewrite history as they wished, defining the Afrikaner as the protagonist, and depicting every act of cruelty with a particular rosy tint to make the Afrikaner look like the persecuted hero looking for a Promised Land. Among this group, the figure of C. J. Langenhoven that weaved the infamous anthem of the Afrikaner – Die Stem (the voice), where words were cast as an evil spell to sweep the Afrikaner along an emotional river of falsehood. To the simple, often unschooled, racist Afrikaner, this invented history and emotional anthem seemed to fit into their confirmation bias and world-view whereby the Afrikaner male was (barely) under their god and everything else on this planet, including Afrikaner women and children, other races, animals, and nature were under their control.
But in the folds of this “Man’s world,” a culture was created. The language invented by descendants of early marriages between Europeans and Africans who became slaves to white residents of the Cape province was appropriated and the Afrikaner declared ownership of this language – Afrikaans. Poetry and prose, songs, and other cultural phenomena came to be – created out of a mixture of European heritage and whatever could be robbed from the peoples around them. With this Afrikaner pride rose like a wave of testosterone and created Afrikaner nationalism, the false belief, resting on a soft bed of invented history and perverted religion, that the Afrikaner needed a promised land and that it was ordained by God, the same God that wanted them to spread the gospel to the races they oppressed.
It is in this epoch that the dark figure of Hendrik Verwoerd spilled onto the political scene in South Africa, a realm that like all other privilege was for whites only. He manufactured a policy that at a distance might have looked like a good deal for Europeans and Africans, fully knowing that the devil lay in the details, or in this case in the implementation of the policy. The serfhood of the African in South Africa was just about assured by now. Stripped away was their land, their cattle, their skills, their pride. Their culture was ground to dust under the heel of the European. Their existence was that of prisoners of war – dependent on the European for their livelihood. Most of these people were living in squalor, near white towns, so that they could work as indentured servants for Europeans. After enough time had passed, and you had generation upon generation of servants, many believed that they could never be free. Many, but not all of them.
Within this period in history, several groups of African rebels tried to organize themselves against the oppression. Many of these groups were ruthlessly destroyed or imprisoned. But in time a few liberation organizations managed to get a foothold, to get enough international support and areas inside and outside of South Africa where people could be trained to establish an underground network that was undermining the tranquility of white existence.
In this dystopian time, Nelson and Winnie Mandela became prominent figures in the African resistance against the Afrikaner stronghold.
Winnie continued the work she and her husband dedicated their lives to after the incarceration of Nelson Mandela in 1964. In 1969, Winnie Mandela was put in solitary confinement for over a year and frequently tortured in an attempt to break her. But she was a woman that was as tough as the steel taken from the soil of Africa – unbreakable, and once she was released, she wrote a letter to Nelson Mandela that will be shown at the end of this article.
In time to come, Winnie continued the struggle and kept the name of Nelson Mandela alive, which caused international support for the ANC to rise, in spite of the cynical attempts by white heroes like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to squelched this support.
But somewhere in this nightmare of a life, some of the evil of the Afrikaner, some of the acts perpetrated against her caused her to make judgment errors, to perhaps in desperation sometimes act as ruthless as the oppressors. It is difficult to differentiate which of the stories are true and what is just propaganda invented by the Apartheid security apparatus to defame her. But instead of focusing on that, we should realize she was still a hero, as unmovable as Table Mountain, she held her ground – but as can only be understood by those that have resisted real evil, her humanity suffered at times.
Nobody, nobody who has resisted evil as pure and cruel as the Afrikaner’s invention – Apartheid, would ever criticize someone who was standing in the front lines of the resistance, someone who has suffered unspeakable horror and loss, for the judgement errors she might have made – because this was open war, perhaps not war in the conventional sense – but war nonetheless. I find it problematic to cast
myself into her shoes because I am not sure I would have lasted as she did. I suspect, that I like most people would have broken under the relentless terrorism that the Afrikaner committed. And if by some stroke of luck, I managed to keep my body alive and my psyche together to keep on existing, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have become a monster that would have wanted to wipe my enemy from the surface of the planet.
And so this week I heard about the passing of the mother of the nation and I knew in my heart that once again Afrikaners, even now so many decades after Apartheid ended, would sit in their privilege at tables in coffee shops served by black waiters, or neat living rooms, frequently cleaned by black domestic workers, and would insult her legacy by hyper-focusing on her mistakes instead of admitting the historical context and the personal suffering that this brave person endured. Once again they would choose to see her life in a subjective one-dimensional way and cast one cynical statement after another into her open grave.
But there is one thing that these Afrikaners forget. Their hate and insults could never break her. She stood and faced down all of Arikanerhood, and specifically the Afrikaner male. So if she could, she would smile, and take each of those insults and decorate her chest as if they were medallions, a confirmation of an incredible service paid to her people, by a normal human being. And while the insults are heaping up like invisible flowers on her grave, Afrikaners will still not realize that in helping to liberate her people, Winnie also liberated the Afrikaner from his own evil.
Here then Winnie Mandela’s letter to her husband:
I can only hope that the guards do not completely destroy this letter. I have recently been released from Pretoria central prison.
They called me a terrorist Nelson; I was only doing my job and speaking on behalf of the ANC.
They kept me in solitary confinement for a year but I never stopped thinking about you and our girls each day while I was in there.
I knew that the girls were safe away at boarding school but still I constantly worried about you.
In prison, they treated me like an animal Nelson, they tortured and humiliated me. Those first few days are the worst in anyone’s life – that uncertainty, that insecurity. The whole thing is calculated to destroy you. [I was] not in touch with anybody.
And in those days all I had in the cell was a sanitary bucket, a plastic bottle which could contain only about three glasses of water and a mug.
The days and nights became so long I found I was talking to myself. [My] body [became] sore, because [I was] not used to sleeping on cement. I know that your conditions at Robben Island are not much better but my days in jail only made me stronger.
I want to fight Nelson; I want to free our people from the white government. The police continue to harass me all the time. Each day, I wonder if I will able to return home to see our girls.
Nelson, your daughters live in fear each day. They have already lost the presence of their father; they cannot lose me as well.
Even though Zinzi is a year younger than Zenani, she has really taken over my role as the mother of the house. Our girls have your heart, especially Zinzi, she talks about wanting to bring about change and fight for your freedom and for our people.
I don’t know how our girls have continued to be so strong, especially while both of us were locked away.
They no longer allow to continue my duties as a social worker, so I am only focused on my role in the ANC. My love, we are so lucky to be blessed with friends and neighbours who are helping us during this difficult time.
How do the police expect me to feed our girls with no income? I am just thankful for the help from our people. Nelson, I have had such little time to love you.
But our love has survived all these years of separation so far. I long for you all the time. When I do get to have visits with you, I can only touch your hand.
I want to kiss you; I want to be able to converse with you without hearing the white guards shout “Politics” to cut off our conversations. I want to watch you be a father to our children.
But most of all Nelson, I want to fight. I want to hurt the white man, the filth and disgust that they have put us and our people through.
They must pay for everything that they have done.
You were right when you said “I had married trouble” because trouble is what I am going to give them.
I will continue to fight each day for our people.
Until I see you again my love.
Article first published on Facebook on April 6 2018