She was not a favourite of liberals nor was she in the good books of despots, turncoats and apologists of the racists system. She stood firm in stark contradiction of everything that racism, apartheid and oppression represented. She refused to dine with collaborators, she refused to compromise and to relent even when under immense pressure from within her own movement.
Winnie was no ordinary leader nor was she made of the cloth of compliance that acquiesce to those in power regardless of the shape of their nose or even of their racial hue.
One day she intimated to me in one of our conversations that she grew up herding her father's livestock and occasionally boys would push her aside so that their animals should be first to drink water in a river. One day she put up such a brave fight with sticks to their utter amazement and since then earned their respect. “I don't relent and retreat from a fight. That's me.”
Madikizela-Mandela was a nightmare to those who stood in support of oppression and she was even more lethal in her denunciation of their conduct. She visited havoc on all oppressors, their institutions and their sympathizers with equal dozes of vitriol. Today, they must not seek to have a final say in how best she must be remembered. Madikizela-Mandela has shaped her own life through adversity, courage and sheer stubbornness to survive and overcome a corrupt and an unjust system.
She was not a perfect portrait of a compliant mother who will be preoccupied with just mundane household chores. Much as they were part of her life she had opted for a much more bigger cause of the liberation of her people. She built a house for her children and for the children of her nation. Her house became a refuge from hell, it became a place of asylum where security was assured and where co form was provided.
A colossal figure in the affairs of world politics and a stern hand in the pursuit of the ideals of the Freedom Charter. She contracted many a close relations with most progressive leaders and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was her closest of them all. Traditional leaders, kings and their counsellors relished in her company as she kept closed affinities with tradition and honoured their leadership role in the rural society. King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo of AbaThembu was another of her favourite and she would host him at her home and spare nothing in treating him like true African royalty.
Madikizela-Mandela was an insurgent leader who brokered no peace or compromise with an unjust system. She resented injustice but reserved more resentment for those who defended such an injustice. She fought them tirelessly and fearlessly at great peril to herself. The racists running dogs could in most times be more vicious than their handlers as they seek to please and appease. She met them in their game and more often carried the day as they would hurl unprintable insults after their defeat. The strength of Biblical Samson ran in her veins and the courage of David steeled her heart and made her never to tire from a fight.
Madikizela-Mandela was an eternal activists whose activism had no end for so long as there was a cause to take up and for so long as there was an injustice. She did not take leave from the struggle nor did she pause in furtherance of some new ventures. Her life was a constant reinvention and remaking in pursuit of the struggle for her people. She would not dare stand in the margins and was content with being in the vortex of the fire of resistance.
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Madikizela-Mandela was a caring and a compassionate social worker whose deep and enduring love for her people knew no bounds. Her disgust against an injustice was occasioned by her deep love for those to whom such acts of injustice were visited upon. It was this feature of her life that brought to her ambit many generations of activists who have found common cause with her.
She was a devout Methodist of the “Wesleyn spleen,” a mother of uManyano and dutifully attended her church services throughout her troubled life. She found great solace in the Methodist teachings and its invigorating hymns lifted her spirits when she was down with the weight of relentless apartheid harassment.
She held no position of responsibility at her Meadowlands Methodist church and became an abiding audience to the many preachers sermons. In her church she ceased to be a leader and accepted to be led and counselled by Mrs Florence Melamane, her worship class leader. Such is a true mark of a leader who succumb to others and defer to other forms of authority.
She was a defiant rebel to the hilt.
She had defined herself outside of the power structures and sided with the masses of her people. Her view of power was suspect and she saw a need to constantly fight and struggle in order to change the power structure and the power dynamic to abide by the will of the people.
She trusted the people more than power and its trappings and its all pervasive might. Madikizela-Mandela was the beacon of hope to all radical leftists who found in her hope, refuge, fellowship and reinvigoration.
She was a devout mother whose love for her children was deeply profound. Mama Winnie was a humorous person who would drop a joke and crack with a haughty laughter.
She was a reservoir of knowledge and possessed deep memories about our struggle for freedom and could recount in great detail many distant historical events.
She knew most activists by name and would recount when they left and returned from exile.
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Those who sold out fell into a special not-to-forget list in her mental archive. One day she recounted to me a story when she chased a baboon in her youth as she was herding the cattle. That baboon would give her a stern look each time it saw her.
“I am like that baboon, I don't forget.”
She was a story teller and narrator of many stories and insightful anecdotes. She would take pot shots at some of her comrades to great laughter. At times she would even joke about an encounter she had with the police and would chastise them that they too were her children.
Madikizela-Mandela was a pleasant host and a caring friend who ensured that all her visitors were fed and relished in her hospitality. In that kitchen she was a cook. One day I went with her to one of her favourite butcheries in Randburg and marvelled at the painstaking effort she took to choose the right and best meat portions with great effort.
She did not forgive sell-outs at all costs. She held deep scars about people who are now in high public office who once sold out their comrades and testified in prison as Mr and Mrs X.
When the older generation of her husband was arrested Madikizela-Mandela found new allies in the youth of Soweto. She fashioned revolutionary relations with the 1976 generation and ignited then into flames of resistance. When that generation went into exile and was arrested she found a new alliance with the Cosas generation of 1979 and wrecked havoc to the system. When that generation was harassed she found common course with the new UDF membership and rendered the apartheid system unworkable. Soon she worked very close with the trade union movement and community organizations to respond to the ANC call to render apartheid ungovernable. Let not those who stand opposed to her radical thought seek to silence her beyond the grave. Let them not be allowed to cite and recite her legacy with long pauses and forked tongues. Let them not be allowed to occasionally tell us that she was not perfect, that she was human and made mistakes. To us she was perfect,she was more than a human being. To us she was a true mother, a reliable leader and a truthful revolutionary.
Madikizela-Mandela was comfortable among kings, socialites, world leaders but above all she relished the company of the ordinary folk. The material from where she is made is no more in supply and we will mourn eternally for our mother and fighter.
Those who disposed of her did so out of envy and those who love her did so out of deep appreciation of her sacrifices. We will sleep on our very open wounds to accentuate healing. We knew you would one day leave us, if we had our wish you could outlive an elephant. Farewell great fighter. Farewell compassionate mother and comrade.
* Thami ka Plaaitjie is Advisor to Lindiwe Sisulu.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.