History

My Mother’s Love for her People was Deep and Unconditional

Zindzi Mandela pays tribute to her mother on International Women's Day

CROSSING BORDERS SOUTH AFRICAN EMBASSY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, 8THMARCH 2019, UBUNTU HOUSE, COPENHAGEN

Excellencies!

Garba Diallo, Mariano Davies and Members of Crossing Borders!

Distinguished Guests!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am humbled by this gesture to so boldly honour my mother whose role is often overlooked when my father is revered and celebrated the world over.

My mother’s love for her people was deep and unconditional : always the first to arrive in a crisis situation on the ground without media or police protection. Her love knew no borders and extended from Cape to Cairo, even embracing the Diaspora. During the violent clashes that occurred between foreign nationals and South Africans: she would often be the first to arrive, standing between the warring factions, determined not to leave until she had brought about calm and only leave when she had ensured that people under attack left peacefully ,under the protection of  the authorities. It became my way of life when I would be at work or at home and out of the blue get a call with a greeting like  this: “Where are you darling, we need to go to Meadowlands. Our people need us.” This would be followed by a list of instructions about which Minister, MEC or medic to call.

We all remember how Mama  stood between protesting students and the heavily armed riot police during what has become known as June 16. We remember how she would haul and free protestors out of police vans, fearless and determined. As children, my sister and I saw most of her behind bars than at home ; we were at boarding school in Swaziland at ages 5 and 6 years. On the day that we returned home for the holidays, the security branch would ensure that they locked her up that same morning and we would return to an empty home.

Our kitchen was not only where we would cook and share meals, it became a war room, a strategic space where plots to overthrow the apartheid government were made ; where Mbongeni Ngema discussed the making of Sarafina ; where I first laid eyes on the young revolutionaries Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso  Seathlolo ; where we would tune into Radio Freedom with a hunger to hear the voices of Duma Nokwe and the leadership in exile.

Many of you have had to cross geographical borders to be here. I remember attending a Crossing Borders event about three years ago where stories were shared about the other borders you have to cross in your new environment : the borders of fear, suspicion, anger and insecurity. My mother would have felt your pain and walked this journey with you.

Mama as a Freedom Fighter was incarcerated in apartheid prisons for many years on and off. She was tortured, kept in solitary confinement, banned, kept under house arrest and continuously harassed and monitored by the Security Police. They tried to weaken her strength and spirit and if her perpetrators had succeeded, we would not have remembered the imprisoned Nelson Mandela.

The apartheid government confined her to a refugee camp of oppression with all freedoms denied and she resisted. Mama Winnie’s legacy is one of crossing many borders: the borders of imprisonment and oppression, the borders of injustice, the borders of hatred and the violation of Human Rights.

As a woman, in the manner that her legacy is overlooked, questioned and tarnished: we all need to help her cross that border of patriarchy. It is ironic when I am referred to as Madiba’s daughter with no mention of my mother. It is ironic that in women’s dialogues and conferences, where we fight fiercely for our recognition as equals, we elevate Madiba and bury her legacy.

Why are we so afraid of celebrating one of our own? Are we stuck in a patriarchal refugee camp and ready to settle there? Why do we feed into the Madiba Saint and Winnie Sinner narrative when she has been vindicated of so many allegations? With that in mind, I encourage you to go and watch the Winnie documentary in which apartheid police confess to how she was set up in an attempt to destroy her credibility.

I would like to thank Crossing Borders for drying our tears for we cannot carry the burden of this loss alone. People say that time heals but that is not so; one simply learns to live with the pain for there are daily reminders in things that we see, sounds that we hear and in haunting fragrances.

For a long time, after my mother’s passing, it was very difficult to watch the news for I see her everywhere in the suffering of my people and I know that where there is tragedy, grief, violence, hunger – she would have been there. I therefore urge you, in the spirit of Ubuntu which means “I am because we are” and in keeping with Mama Winnie’s legacy of unconditional love and unwavering service to others, be the change that you want to see in this world, as The Mahatma says.

Let us all cross our borders of ignorance and create constructive spaces within which to elevate one another in a sisterhood that will be an agency for real change.

Thank You!

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