Remembering Winnie Madikizela Mandela: A tribute by Julius Malema

Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Julius Malema.

Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Julius Malema.

Published Sep 29, 2022


September 26 would have been Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s 86th birthday. To remember and honour this South African icon, IOL is republishing a series of special tribute articles written by those who were closest to her.

These articles were first published on September 26 in a commemorative edition supplement in The Star and Pretoria News, as well as in a commemorative edition digital magazine.


By Julius Malema: EFF President and CIC

This day marks the birth of an exceptional and outstanding African Revolutionary, Winnie Nomzamo Mandela. Very few in modern struggles against colonial capitalist injustice have demonstrated the defiant determination and fearlessness of comrade Winnie. Even fewer remained true to the radical nature of their ideals after the struggle like she did.

It is a fact that Winnie Mandela faced imprisonment, brutal torture, banishment, isolation, and the violent assassination of her character by liberal and reactionary publications to the end of her days. Many who were hated by the white media establishment in the days of the struggle became sanitised when their days came to an end decades after apartheid. Indeed, their images were resurrected and redeemed from brutal portrayals of their past, some even painted as saints. Yet, this positive reincarnation of imagery and narrative was never afforded to Mama Winnie Mandela. To the end of her days, the establishment hated her.

Of course, all of this hatred, sustained from her rise in the struggle up to her death, either sought to break or neutralise her commitment to a radical outcome of the struggle against white minority rule. Many who went through what she did, or even less, never passed this important test of holding on to the radical nature of their ideals to the end. Winnie Mandela, barring a household name only second in popularity to that of Nelson Mandela, remained true to radical total decolonisation.

To properly memorialise her, we need to firstly qualify the years of the anti-apartheid struggle after as the years of War. A war that became intensified in mid-1980s to the early 1990s when it was clear apartheid had to fall. This conception of our liberation struggle as a “war” is often marginalised in favour of a peaceful transition narrative that privileges “popular protests” as the mantra of internal resistance. Yet, what threatened the regime, in addition to these popular protests, was the massive distribution of arms, particularly in the 1980s; scores of armed blacks willing to kill for the liberation.

Within townships, particularly Soweto, from the 1984/5 States of Emergencies that lasted for the rest of that decade, there was a war. A war the apartheid spatial planning and security forces contained within township areas. In those years, the apartheid military was a permanent presence on the streets, in rallies, funerals, as well as, and especially, schools. Detention without trial, mass imprisonment, torture and the killing of activists became the order of the day. Our people had to fight back and they did with guns, petrol bombs, and stones.

Apartheid had also evolved so that there were so many within the black townships partaking in its governing structures beyond the Bantustans. Black town councils with black mayors, black police personnel and administrators, all of whom became targets of protests against the regime. This is why during the 1984 Vaal Uprising of September 3 alone, over five of these black councillors were killed.

It is in this context that the life of Comrade Winnie must be located. She chose a side, commanded both underground units of MK and formed many of these Self-Defence Units across the PWV areas. Historically, this decade, 1980s, saw the formation of more armed units of resistance within the country than any other decade since 1960. Many of these units operated without much of central control or program and were largely self-trained and self-armed, like Winnie Mandela.

We must also recall that her entrance in these theatres of military resistance was inaugurated by defiance of her banishment order to Brandfort. She left that isolated Free State township in 1985 and arrived in Soweto, her home, as an apartheid fugitive to participate in this resistance war in favour of a radical overthrow of the regime. Needless to say, it is in this same year that the ANC official line to all its internal resistance forces was to render apartheid ungovernable.

Here, she would earn her iconic title of “mother of the nation” because, on several occasions she physically opened police and military vans, freeing scores of youths arrested by apartheid security forces for demonstrating in protests. In addition, she majority of the self-defence units personably knew her because together with other leaders, she fearlessly formed them, distributed weapons and facilitated routes for many cadres to come in and out of the country.

The call for suspension of the armed struggle in favour of a peaceful negotiated outcome is precisely because there was a war, armed units, some formed personally by the revolutionary- Winnie Mandela. It is therefore instructive that even in her last days, when she insisted that the ANC conceded too much in those negotiations, she did so as one of those who had to personally disarm, including seeing this through into all other units that she personally formed and armed.

Many of us in the Economic Emancipation Movement see this uncompromising courage as central to the conduct of our own generational mission. We have sought to emulate her ability to speak truth to power and the courage to be consistent with the radical demands for total emancipation against all odds.

Already in our young days in COSAS when we marched for free education, bringing Africa’s richest city of Johannesburg to a standstill, it was Mama Winnie who stood with us when we got arrested.

Even when we were expelled from the liberation movement for the ideals of the Freedom Charter and formed the EFF, she was not hesitant to publicly pronounce “viva EFF”. Many leaders with her stature would never dare affirm the EFF in those terms. However, just like she used to be the only one in those war years who could say “viva ANC” in the presence of apartheid security forces, still she affirmed the EFF with no fear of the incumbent ANC comprador bourgeoisie.

This is because the aspirations for which Comrade Winnie Mandela fought have not been realised - ie the nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy. Most importantly, the ideal that “all shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose”.

Perhaps her refusal to engage in revisionism of these ideals is the reason the ANC patriarchal aristocrats refused her a fair democratic contest in their 1997 congress. Be that as it may, it will never erase the fact that none amongst them was equal to her popularity in that contest. Moreover, what cemented the hatred they had against her was when they refused her to address Peter Mokaba’s funeral service. This is despite the fact that she was President of ANC WL and therefore deserving of that role. However, at the same time, Mokaba was undoubtedly her protégé.

When we protested her exclusion from the funeral programme, she privately told some of us to accept this out of organisational discipline. The irony though is that Bathabile Dlamini, who served as Secretary General to mama Winnie at the time, accepted to replace her in the programme instead of standing in solidarity with her as a woman. The desperate careerism she displayed that day is testimony of how women unity and collective resistance against patriarchy continued to be undermined to this day.

Nevertheless, beyond those toxic congress corridors, Winnie Mandela’s heritage will eternally shine the brightest for young black girls across the ages. Because of her outstanding contribution and distinguished record in struggle, no one needs to travel to some ancient African civilisation or society for evidence that black women can be leaders, militant, fearless, educated, and still raise children all on their own. Her life is a living testament against white supremacy and patriarchy combined- a testament that will surely multiply.

In her memory, we vow to continue the struggle, her struggle, for economic freedom in our lifetime and the total emancipation of all our people.

Long Live the undying spirit of Winnie Mandela, Long Live.