We celebrate Mama Winnie because her sacrifices made our freedom possible

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela benefited millions of black people, says the writer.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela benefited millions of black people, says the writer.
Image: JAMES OATWAY

Mama Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela is no more. Her body lies still, awaiting its eternal reunification with the African soil on Saturday.

That she was human is obvious. She made mistakes in the cause of the Struggle. Had she not done so, fanatics would have by now launched a church in St Winnie's name. Indeed, our country is full of bogus angels.

Lodged in the comfort of post-apartheid South Africa, it is easy to ask about Mama Winnie: "What is the big deal?"

For born-frees, such a question can arise out of pure innocence. There is a difference between reading about greatness in a history book and witnessing greatness in real life.

The youth of today access Mama Winnie's greatness through reconstruction. Even the emotions of the narrated story are reconstructed. "After all, it is a story," they say.

For most white South Africans, "What is the big deal?" is a fair question. For they honestly know not what it feels like to be treated by the state as a second-class citizen. It, therefore, makes sense for whites to switch off their television sets and say, "Ag, it's Winnie again. When will it end?"

For black people, it will not come to an end.

Under apartheid, a column such as the one you are now reading would not have been written without the risk of inviting the police either to question, intimidate or, indeed, arrest the author.

Given what he usually writes, the author of this column would most probably have been killed by the state, had Mama Winnie not fought for the freedom of black people.

Millions of black people today have clean running water, electricity and houses, thanks to Mama Winnie's personal sacrifice.

This columnist grew up in a rural village under apartheid. We shared water with animals from a river nearby. The apartheid system did not think of us as deserving of clean water.

The village also did not have electricity, even though electricity pylons passed over our hovels going to the house of a white farmer who lived not far from us.

Today, thanks to Mama Winnie, that village and many others in South Africa have electricity and clean water, provided by the state.

A lot has been said about RDP houses. Some people have even suggested that the four-roomed asbestos houses built by the apartheid government were better than today's RDP houses.

They may be smaller, but RDP houses are far greater in number than the few asbestos houses of the apartheid government.

By the way, this columnist once lived in an RDP house. It is certainly far better than the shack he used to live in before the state built a house for his brother.

Even the black people who can afford mansions have a great deal to thank Mama Winnie for. It did not matter how much money you had, you could not live in town as a black person under apartheid. So, if you are black and you live in the suburbs, you must know that you would not live there if Mama Winnie had not fought for you.

It is true that millions of black people are still poor. It is also true that the ANC government has failed blacks in many ways, but to ask "What is the big deal?" about Mama Winnie is to insult black people as a whole.

What have you done for black people?

If you were not there during apartheid, there is still a question for you: "What are you doing for black people today?"

Many of us are willing to forgive Mama Winnie for her flaws simply because the benefits of her sacrifice far outweigh her mistakes.

Those who pretend to be "holier than thou" cannot spend one year waiting for a husband who is in jail.

Please shut up. Leave us to celebrate our Mama Winnie.

Hamba kahle, Mother of our Nation.

We will remember you for the rest of our lives.

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