There are a lot of things I do not like about Winnie, but going back to her struggle days just made me want to forgive her, says Makhudu Sefara.
Johannesburg - It’s a painful thing to watch, the life story of Winnie Mandela. Her harassment by the police, her solitary confinement and how she almost lost her mind – talking to ants in a cell.
I watched the movie this week and, kudos to the makers, it was a beautiful piece of cinematography. A gripping tale of love found and lost. And, in the end, seeing how everything she did to keep sane was not enough to help her keep her man was truly heartbreaking.
The other thing that’s painful to watch is how easily we forget how this democracy was achieved. What sacrifices were made.
There is a scene in the movie about how Winnie had to spend about five months without a bath, confined to her cell. This just got me off balance, made me sad.
It’s amazing how we forget the simple things that must keep us rooted to the cause of freedom. As Nelson Mandela put it, the crucial thing about freedom is that once you attain it, you must help others to get it.
There are a lot of things I do not like about Winnie, but going back to this chapter just made me want to forgive her. One of these is the fact that she did not want to accept that certain things went wrong with that band of bandits called the Mandela United Football Club.
I feel moved to make the excuse for her that she did not know their every move and criminal action, but she needed to acknowledge this. Whether or not Stompie Seipei was a police spy did not warrant him to be subjected to kangaroo justice. Her fraud conviction too stands as a blight on a life dedicated to the betterment of others.
But what’s also painful to watch, is how after waiting almost 30 years for a jailed husband, the unit just fell apart on his release. It’s a sad end to an incredible love story.
Sometimes I look at people like her, damaged by the system in so horrible a manner but not broken, and wonder whether we should not be a bit more patient, a bit more understanding, a bit more accommodating of them. These are people whose fighting spirit was never dimmed by banning orders or the murder of their comrades. They were people who wanted to do what is right for this country at any cost. This is more than we can say for a whole lot of politicians running our lives today.
These have gifted us many other things that are, like Winnie’s life, too painful to watch.
This week, for example, The Star reported that the Limpopo government could not spend R1.3 billion which the Treasury had to divert to provinces like Gauteng, Free State and Western Cape.
This was R644 million for housing the poor, R600m for fixing roads and R8.9m for libraries. Statistics SA tells us that the highest concentration of poverty-stricken South Africans are to be found in Limpopo, according to the last census.
Yet it can’t spend money availed to help make the burden lighter.
In The Star on Thursday, Carmel Rickard wrote about parents who sued to force the Department of Basic Education to provide such basic education enablers like desks.
The judge hearing the matter is recorded as saying there is “little or no prospect that the furniture crisis would be addressed in the foreseeable future”. Yet we continue to spend money on the wrong things. That’s if we spend the money at all.
Last weekend, the ANC sent many of its heavyweights to Limpopo to tell residents to trust only the party of Mandela to change their lives. The DA too launched its manifesto in the province last weekend, promising to better the lot of the country’s poorest, if only they trusted it with their votes.
The tragic thing about a period like this in our electoral life, is that you can’t really trust politicians to tell voters the truth about what is possible and what is not. Politicians are anxious. They want their ticket to parliament (read uninterrupted pay and perks for the next five years), and so they will say whatever it takes, whatever they think the electorate wants to hear. It’s just a painful thing to watch.
At this point, all politicians know the answers to our developmental questions. Yet, a year from now, we will be talking about the same old, well, you know what.
When you see the kind of things that the auditor-general raises – R30bn lost to corruption annually – you’ve got to wonder whether we are, as a people, so incompetent (and comfortable in our incompetence) or we simply are not possessed of the will to ensure things are done properly.
When you see the ANC affirming someone like Humphrey Mmemezi, making him a member of its highest decision-making body, you wonder whether the blood that was spilled, the pain endured by so many, the lives lost, including that of Stompie Seipei, was in pursuit of this.
When they shouted Mayibuye, iAfrika! was this so the poor could treat them with diffidence, reticent about gaudy manifestations of overindulgence? When kids fall into an open pit toilet and die, choking from the faeces and acidic urine in Limpopo, we must say nothing?
When you see our government saying it will not comment about the anti-gay, no, in fact, anti-life legislation signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, you must wonder what happened to human right activists in what was that proud movement of the people called the ANC.
Minister Naledi Pandor, without a whiff of shame, says South Africa does not comment about other countries’ legislation. Have she and her comrades in cabinet paused to imagine how our fight against apartheid would have unfolded had the international community folded its arms and said it did “not comment about other countries’ legislation?” Apartheid was an unjust law and many, correctly, supported us against this. To expect us to keep quiet for no reason other than that Uganda has passed an unjust law is to be complicit in Uganda’s legalised crime.
Even Mandela spoke out against presidents who violated human rights, including George Bush and Tony Blair when they went to war in Iraq in 2003: “One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.”
I suppose it does not help that we have a homophobe for an ambassador in Uganda.
But the key thing is that in forgetting where we come from, we lose ourselves.
We evolve into people who find nothing wrong with politicians who use sugary sentimentalism about helping the poor of Limpopo yet fail to use the money allocated to do just that. We become people who are unmoved by so questionable a character like Mmemezi ascending to the ANC national executive committee and thus standing a chance to become a minister, when his record of misusing tax payers’ money in Gauteng – buying artwork and baked beans – speak volumes.
How soon we forget the months Winnie spent without access to a shower. It’s not long that Mandela was buried, yet his ability to confront presidents with no foresight is forgotten. We forget that many died for this freedom so that we can use it to free others from the pain of bad roads and rickety structures that pass for houses in Limpopo, schools without desks.
May the spirit that helped us trounce apartheid lords help us liberate many from the chains that continue to inhibit our progress.
* Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter @Sefara_Mak