Winnie Mandela: South Africa’s Flawed Heroine

Winnie Mandela: South Africa's Flawed Heroine
FILE COPY Former wife of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, waves as she attends the 54th ANC National Conference at the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg. MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s marriage to Nelson Mandela and her anti-apartheid activism ensured many South Africans saw her as “the mother of the nation”, but her past was littered with dark controversies.

Born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela, and always known simply as “Winnie”, she was married to Nelson for 38 years — one of the most storied romances of modern history.

Most of their marriage was spent apart, with Nelson imprisoned for 27 years, leaving her to raise their two daughters alone and to keep alive his political dream under the repressive white-minority regime.

In 1990 the world watched when Nelson Mandela finally walked out of prison — hand in hand with Winnie.

But they separated just two years later and divorced in 1996 after a legal wrangle that revealed her affair with a young bodyguard.

With or without Nelson, Winnie built her own role as a tough, glamourous and outspoken black activist with a loyal grassroots following in the segregated townships.

“From every situation I have found myself in, you can read the political heat in the country,” she said in a biography.

Winnie was born September 26, 1936, in the village of Mbongweni in what is now Eastern Cape.

She completed university, a rarity for black women at the time, and became the first qualified social worker at Johannesburg’s Baragwanath Hospital.

It was her political awakening, especially her research work in Alexandra township on infant mortality, which found 10 deaths in every 1,000 births.

“I started to realise the abject poverty under which most people were forced to live, the appalling conditions created by the inequalities of the system,” she said.

Hounded by police 

Nelson Mandela, who was then married to his first wife, met Winnie at a bus stop in Soweto when she was 22.

They wed in June 1958, but he soon went underground, pursued by the apartheid authorities.

In October that year, Winnie was arrested for the first time at a protest by women against the pass system that restricted movements of black people in white-designated areas.

After Nelson was sentenced to life in prison in 1964, Winnie was also in and out of jail as the police hounded her in a bid to demoralise him.

Government security forces tortured her, tried locking her up, confined her to Johannesburg’s Soweto township, and then banished her to the desolate town of Brandfort, where her house was bombed twice.

She was allowed to visit her husband in prison rarely, and they were always divided by a glass screen.

 Linked to ‘necklacing’ 

Throughout the height of apartheid, Winnie remained at the forefront of the struggle, urging students in the Soweto uprising in 1976 to “fight to the bitter end”.

But in the 1980s, the militant-martyr began to be seen as a liability for Mandela and the liberation movement.

She had surrounded herself with a band of vigilante bodyguards called the Mandela United Football Club, who earned a terrifying reputation for violence.

Winnie was widely linked to “necklacing”, when suspected traitors were burnt alive by a petrol-soaked car tyre being put over their head and set alight.

Her notoriety was reinforced by a speech in 1986 when she declared that “with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.”

 ‘Something went horribly wrong’ 

In 1991, Winnie was convicted of kidnapping and assault over the killing of Stompie Moeketsi, a 14-year-old boy.

Moeketsi, who was accused being an informer, was murdered by her bodyguards in 1989.

Her jail sentence was reduced to a fine, and she denied involvement in any murders when she appeared before Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

“She was a tremendous stalwart of our struggle, and icon of liberation — something went wrong, horribly, badly wrong,” Tutu said as damning testimony implicated her.

She served as a deputy minister in President Mandela’s government, but was sacked for insubordination and eased out of the top ranks of the ruling party.

After a 2003 conviction for fraud, she later rehabilitated her political career winning a seat in parliament in 2009 elections.

But her bitterness emerged in 2010 newspaper interview, saying: “Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks.”

She also called Tutu a “cretin” and the reconciliation process a “charade”, though she later claimed the quotes were never meant to be published

Despite it all, she was a regular visitor travelling from Soweto — where she still lived — to Mandela’s bedside in his final months, and she said she was present when he died.

He did not leave her anything in his will.

At her lavish 80th birthday party in Cape Town, Madikizela-Mandela wore a sparkling white dress and beamed with pleasure as she was lauded by guests that included senior politicians from rival parties.

“Mama Winnie has lived a rich and eventful life, whose victories and setbacks have traced the progress of the struggle of our people for freedom,” then vice president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now president, told guests.


Autopsy Shows Carrie Fisher had Cocaine, Heroin In Her System

“Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher had traces of cocaine, heroin and party drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy, in her system when she died suddenly in December, according to a full autopsy report released on Monday.

The autopsy report could not ascertain what effect the cocaine and other drugs may have had on her system.

Coroner’s officials ruled on Friday that the death of the “Star Wars” actress was due to sleep apnea and other causes.

Fisher died at age 60 on December 27, four days after she went into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

She had a long history of cocaine addiction in the 1980s and she also suffered from bipolar disorder. Although Fisher had spoken openly about her battle with addiction, it was not known that she had ongoing issues with drugs.

Fisher had likely taken the cocaine some 72 hours before she was admitted to the hospital in Los Angeles, according to Monday’s autopsy and toxicology report.

The officials said they could not pinpoint the time of exposure to the small amount of heroin found in Fisher’s system, along with the MDMA and other opiates.

But they said the drugs can suppress breathing and respiration and that Fisher had a history of sleep apnea.

After undergoing treatment in the mid-1980s for cocaine addiction, Fisher wrote the bestselling novel “Postcards from the Edge,” about a drug-abusing actress forced to move in with her mother. The book was later adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

She reprised her star-making role as Princess Leia in the 2015 film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” when her character become an astute military general.

Her daughter, Billie Lourd, said in a statement to People magazine on Friday that her mother “battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases.”

Lourd said she thought Fisher would “want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programmes.”

NDLEA sniffer dogs detect heroin from Iran at Lagos airport

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on Wednesday said that its sniffer dogs have helped in the confiscation of 16 Kilogrammes of highly grade heroin at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos.

The agency through its head of public affairs, Ofoyeju Mitchell said this is the first major seizure of narcotics this year.

Mr Mitchell said that the anti-narcotic agents had placed the consignment on surveillance following the alert signal of the sniffer dogs. The operation led to the ultimate abandonment of the 16 kilogrammes of heroin by a suspected drug syndicate at the National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Shed of the airport.

According to him, the brownish substance that tested positive  was packed in white transparent polythene and hidden inside metal pipes and that the drug which was industrially packed was brought as cargo on a KLM flight from the Republic of Iran.

“The estimated street value of the drug in Lagos, Nigeria is about 160 million naira and could be four times higher in international market,” Mr Mitchell said in a press statement.

He said that the agency conducted “100 per cent search because of the alert given by the sniffer dogs. A welder was invited to forcefully cut the pipe open. The effort paid off when the heroin was found.

“The cargo with Air Waybill number 0747419547 was addressed to one Mr. Nnaemeka Chinedu Joseph of 64, Ladipo Industrial Parts, Mushin Lagos,” he said.

The airport commander, Hamza Umar said that the consignment arrived from Iran but was left unclaimed.

“The consignment was at the NAHCO shed upon arrival from Iran. Based on suspicion we placed it under observation. However, when nobody came forward to take delivery of the consignment, we first brought in the sniffer dogs to examine it.

“The dogs alerted that the thick metal pipes are positive for narcotics. This was what emboldened us to conduct extensive examination openly witnessed by customs, police and other security officials. They were all amazed at the clever way the drug was concealed” the commander said.

The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the NDLEA, Ahmadu Giade said that the seizure is an indication that drug trafficking syndicates are losing the drug war.

“This is another important seizure to the agency and the country,” he said.

“It points to the fact that our control measures at the exit and entry points are getting better by the day. No doubt, it is a huge loss for the drug cartel behind the illegal shipment. This is a very successful operation and we have launched full scale investigation into the illegal import. We hope to unveil the culprits soonest” Mr Giade added.

The NDLEA boss added that the role of the sniffer dogs in the seizure underscore the importance of logistic support in the drug war.