Victor Kgomoeswana

THE EVENTS of the past two weeks prompted me to consider taking out an ad in a major national newspaper. The ad would invite anyone set on praising me to do so before my death.

It would also ban speeches or messages about me after my demise, be it on social media or at any memorial service or funeral. That would save me the convulsions plaguing the deceased when they listen to our clumsy tributes at their burial.

The death of our national liberation Struggle icon, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, let loose a tide of ill-timed comments, including what should have been left unsaid. We Africans, popular sentiment goes, do not tell our own stories.

Despite my typical resistance of anything negative about Africa, it was hard to not admit to this after the screening of the documentary Winnie. This tell-all film by French director Pascale Lamche, renowned for producing works such as Black Diamond and Stalingrad, got me wondering what it will take for us to overcome this inability to talk about things and people while we can, or when they can still answer.

It was not for nothing that the late Madikizela-Mandela was known as the Mother of the Nation.

That title belongs to her now, as it did for the first time in the 1980s.

It was her ability to brave the sharp edge of any apartheid government knife with her bare hands for freedom that led to her undisputed coronation.

We all knew what she did and the circumstances in which she did it. Still, when allegations about her role in the death of Stompie Seipei were peddled in the media, we mortgaged our ability to discern fiction from fact.

Even when Jerry Richardson conceded that he was in fact responsible for the death of the youngster, we elected to let Mama Winnie stew just a little longer in the shadow of suspicion.

She lived her post-1994 life in her cold solitary cell, as she had done before 1990, while we drugged ourselves with daily dosages of fake news.

Except for the few books or films about her, we did not do enough digging to uncover the truth.

Alf Kumalo, that legendary photo-journalist who gave over five decades of his life to telling stories through the lens, once told me that he was accused of an obsession with the Mandelas.

His collection of the Mandela family was like nothing ever seen.

Kumalo collaborated with writer Zukiswa Wanner to produce a stellar portrait of Mama Winnie in the 2010 book titled 8115: A Prisoner’s Home.

There was more about her in another book by Kumalo and journalist Tanya Farber, Through My Lens. Then there was her autobiography, 491 Days: Prisoner number 1323/69, and the movie later starring Jennifer Hudson.

Compare that to the more than 50 movies and countless books on Chicago gangster Al Capone.

One would imagine that the periodic revelations regarding the life of Mama Winnie and the disclosures of ongoing conspiracies to besmirch her name would have made us all go out to find out more about the truth.

It would have been fitting to have had many media interviews with her to find out exactly what her real story was.

But, no; we had to wait until her death to have our mass media screen her documentary, before professing our anger at the unfair treatment she endured.

Our fury was so seething that some were willing to use the occasion to discredit Nelson Mandela and many ANC leaders for marginalising her unfairly.

Trust us Africans to let one film divide us.

Today, there are many Winnie Madikizela-Mandelas living among us in acute pain and loneliness whose stories we are ignoring and we will probably remember them only after their deaths. Looking away from their pain and lonely road is nothing short of sinfulness.

This should be the last time we ever leave kind words unsaid! While at it, may we also learn to let the memory of Madiba rest in peace!

* Kgomoeswana is the author of ‘Africa is Open for Business’, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a columnist for Destiny Man

The Sunday Independent