Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived at the now derelict house, number 802, in what was then called the black township in Brandfort until 1985. Pictures: Supplied
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived at the now derelict house, number 802, in what was then called the black township in Brandfort until 1985. Pictures: Supplied

A home that Mama Winnie's heart wasn't in

By Andrew Moses Time of article published Apr 6, 2018

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Bloemfontein - The small agricultural town of Brandfort in the Free State has probably not changed much from the time when Struggle icon Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela was dumped there in May 1977 as part of a banishment order by the apartheid regime. 

The aim was to isolate her and make it impossible for the stalwart to pursue her political activities as she was put among people who hardly spoke her mother tongue, isiXhosa. The people predominantly spoke Sesotho and it was hoped that would demoralise her and "kill" her politically.

She lived at the now derelict house, number 802, in what was then called the black township in Brandfort until 1985. The area had no running water and electricity, and when she moved in, there were no floors and ceilings. 

She described the place in Winnie Mandela: A Life, by Anné Mariè du Preez, as: “A drab and dusty rural hamlet with unimaginative houses, an old-fashioned two-storey hotel, small shops lining the main street and a pervading atmosphere of lethargy and inactivity the forlorn township had no official name but the black residents had baptised it 'Phathakahle', meaning handle with care."

Although the township is now named Deep Level location while Phathakahle has also been formalised, there is not much economic activity in the town, about 60km north-east of Bloemfontein. There is still one main road running across town with mainly retail outlets lining either side of it. The formerly whites-only residential area is well separated from the black township by the R30 highway.  

News of Madikizela-Mandela’s passing came as major shock to her long-time friend and former neighbour Nora Nomafa Moahlodi, 75, who visited her on Sunday but could not see her due to her illness. She described Madikizela-Mandela as a strong and fearless woman. “This is really painful to hear this,” she said at her Phathakahle home. 

“But, in any case, we thank God for giving us Winnie Mandela. Winnie really motivated the people of Brandfort. She was a good mother. Everybody wanted to work with her, including the churches, never mind the banning orders under the apartheid system. She managed to touch everybody, particularly the needy people in Brandfort,” said Moahlodi, a former teacher. 

She said Madikizela-Mandela's fighting spirit encouraged her to defy the government instruction that locals should not speak to Winnie as a way of ensuring she was completely isolated, and could not influence her neighbours politically.

“I had no other route to take when going to school besides passing the front of her house. The banning order stated that we were not supposed to speak to Winnie. But because this is largely a rural area, it’s so small and we all knew each other. As part of our culture, we always greet each other when passing.

"So, as a way of maintaining my culture, I had to say, ‘Molo Mama',” she said with a smile as she reflected on the life of the woman she described as a nation-builder.

Moahlodi said Madikizela-Mandela’s death had particularly hit her and her family because she had tried to visit the Struggle icon when she went to Joburg over the Easter weekend for a family gathering. Before leavng Soweto on Sunday, she told her family that she wanted to visit her old friend and see how she was doing. 

“I said to my children, I cannot leave Soweto without seeing my friend. So, we went to Winnie’s house but the security said to me ‘Mama Winnie is not well. She complained of flu. It’s unfortunate you cannot see her. Can’t you come back tomorrow.'

"I told them that I was from Brandfort and was on my way back and asked for a piece of paper just to write a message. 

Moahlodi said in the message she wrote: “I was here just to say hi, Nomzamo. I am going back to Brandfort. Get well soon, please Mama. We love you all, from Brandfort."

She added: "I then wrote my name and phone number and asked all my children and grandchildren in the car to also sign it, so that Mama gets well soon. We wanted to give that moral support.”

Masilonyana local municipality, which administers the area as well as other surrounding towns, has struggled to undertake major developments citing a low revenue base as most residents in the area are not employed and rely on free government services. 

When she presented the provincial budget last month, MEC for Treasury Elsabe Rockman said the impact of the decline in mining sector was particularly felt in the economies of municipalities such as Masilonyana and Matjhabeng due to their negative growth rates since 1996.

Masilonyana is among the Free State municipalities that have been struggling to pay Eskom for bulk electricity supplies as well as the water boards. It owed Eskom more than R48.5million as at January 31.

Premier Sisi Ntombela, expressing shock at the death of Madikizela-Mandala, said: “In honour of the contribution made by Mama Winnie in the Struggle, the provincial government will erect a statue of this rare icon of the revolution this year.”

The Star

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