18/07/04 Qunu Nelson Mandela celebrateas his 86th birthday with his wife Graca Machel and his ex wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The party was thrown by Mandela's grandchildren. The family was re-united after Winnie was enstranged from Nelson Mandela for many years. Pic: Debbie Yazbek

Wanda Mkutshulwa-Mangena and Nomonde Shongwe debate whether Madiba should have included Winnie as a beneficiary in his will.


Wanda Mkutshulwa-Mangena says that Tata should have left Winnie a piece of his wealth to show appreciation. 

With the raging argument around Nelson Mandela’s last will and testament, it is difficult not to find oneself swept into a vortex of emotional debate about what he should or shouldn’t have done. It is a matter that is largely deeply personal.

Much as one understands the voyeuristic tendencies of the public, with their insatiable appetite to satisfy their curiosity, and of course the longstanding relationship the media has with pandering to this need, it is still an uncomfortable space in which to find oneself.

Public figures are increasingly finding their private space being invaded under the banner of public interest. The name Mandela attracts this interest like bees to a honeypot.

With the public announcement of the contents of Mandela’s will, a Pandora’s box has been opened. (Being discussed are) the rights of former spouses to the estate of a deceased former spouse. (In this case) the living spouse is perceived to have been an integral and vital part to the establishment of said estate.

There is a common view that the name and legacy of Mandela are incomplete without a mention of Winnie Mandela, as she was known until some time after her 1992 divorce from him. They, after all, are often affectionately referred to as the “Mother of the Nation” and “Father of the Nation”. Sounds like a match made in heaven, except that the link has been broken for the past 22 years.

We will not talk about how that happened because we don’t know much about it and frankly it is none of our business. Besides, I assume we were taught not to discuss the personal matters of elders. But no marriage bond is ever completely broken when there are children involved.

 The first matter we must deal with is the different faces of the mirror the two hold in the public discourse. The proponents of no inheritance after divorce, of which I am one, are looking at these two as being just any couple who happened to have gone their separate ways. The more romantic group, which has been baying for the former president’s blood, believe he should have left some of his estate to the “Mother of the Nation” because they see these two as iconic figures in our political history who cannot be separated, even by a mutual decision to divorce.

Much as the romantic view is attractive, we must also be fair and remember that Madiba was not married to the “Mother of the Nation”, the political icon, the powerhouse inspiration for young girls and old women alike. He was married to the love of his life, mother of his children and his life partner. He was not in awe of her because she had become such a powerful political figure, he was in awe of her because he was so in love with her as his wife.

The suffering she went through, he also went through – probably even more so because he was incapable of easing the pain of his wife and children as is expected of a husband and father.

I am no legal eagle, but I think I can delve a bit into the legal aspects. We must explore the rights of the parties involved in respect of the law. When two parties have had their marriage legally dissolved in accordance with the law and all obligations in terms of the divorce settlement have been attended to and completed, then the union is officially dissolved. This means none of the parties shall have a legitimate claim against the other .

However, if the provisions of the settlement are such that a part of a deceased party’s estate should revert to the other party, then this shall be the sole reason to raise a legitimate expectation for a former spouse to be catered for in the estate of the deceased. The only obligation left to the individuals would be to adequately provide for their children during life and at the time of their death.

Where the children are fully grown and self-sufficient, it may be that this would be an ethical/moral/humane obligation on the part of the parent/deceased parent rather than a legal one. Unless the children could prove that they were dependent on the deceased parent or had reasonable reason to expect inheritance, even they may not have grounds to challenge the provisions made by their deceased parent in the closing of his/her estate.

Finally, because we are Africans in Africa the issue of culture and tradition cannot be ignored in matters of family. In the Xhosa culture, when a man and woman decide to separate for whatever reasons that cannot or are not contested by the family, then the woman “goes back to her family”. Among modern individuals you will find a tendency even of taking back their family names upon conclusion of the divorce or changing to a double-barrel surname if they had changed their names at the time of marriage.

When a woman is “returned back to her family”, as it would be seen by this patriarchal system, then she loses any rights or benefits accorded to a married woman of her former spouse’s family except those of being the mother to the children. In the Xhosa community, children born in marriage belong to the husband’s family.

Also, when a man marries a woman who has a child or children he automatically takes on the responsibility of being father to those children, unless discussed otherwise. If he wants the children to take on his family name, then the negotiations for lobolo (bride negotiations) would include cows paid for these children, which when accepted means the permission has been granted. In the case of a formerly married woman, the lobolo would traditionally be negotiated with her married family and by accepting it they would also be granting permission to this man to be the father to “their children”. In matters of inheritance these children would be catered for as children of the deceased.

There is a recurring question as to why Madiba would include even children from his widow’s late husband’s first marriage. The answer is simple in both legal and cultural terms. In terms of the former they were part of her estate as the couple were married in community of property and in the latter they were her children just like her biological children became his after their nuptials. If all this sounds complicated it would probably be because the man and his life was complicated.

Then comes the matter, in my opinion, that should have occupied public discourse instead: the unfairness of patriarchal cultures in deciding matters of inheritance. Boy children and their offspring often get the lion’s share of the estate while the girl children and theirs are often ignored or get the least, despite their contribution or marital circumstances. I believe this is generally informed by a belief that even if their children are born outside of marriage, thus taking on the girl’s family name, her children would be considered to “belong to their father’s family”, especially if the families had negotiated and agreed on the intlawulo (damages claims). Hence the children and grandchildren of Madiba’s three daughters received the least attention from their grandfather.

Ultimately, though, how one devolves one’s estate is a matter of personal choice. We should not be disrespecting the wishes of the dead by questioning and challenging their decisions ad nauseam.


* Mkutshulwa-Mangena is an executive at SA National Parks. She writes in her personal capacity


Winnie Madikizela Mandela has devoted her life to the Struggle and deserves recognition, writes Nomonde Shongwe.

 Winnie Madikizela Mandela has suffered all her life. During the dark years of apartheid, she gave her life to the Struggle, constantly harassed for her political work to free us from the yoke of oppression. The apartheid regime sought to break her emotionally, spiritually and physically. They failed!

Strong woman that she was, Winnie soldiered on, fighting for an end to a system that brutalised us because we were black.

All those years, while her husband, Nelson, went underground and dodged the murderous apartheid police, and was eventually captured, tried and sent away for life, spending 27 years in prison, Winnie continued to keep the fires of the Struggle alive. She never looked back. She was neither broken nor defeated.

Their children, Zindzi and Zenani, hardly ever saw both parents, but Winnie was always there for them, even though she was sometimes taken away, leaving them alone. She spent more than a year in solitary confinement, and was banished and placed under house arrest.

Very few women could have survived such an ordeal at such an early age.

She was only 22 when she met Mandela, and gave up her career as the country’s first black social worker to support her husband’s political life.

In Knowing Mandela, author and journalist John Carlin quotes her: “I have never lived with Mandela. I have never known what it was to have a close family where you sat around the table with husband and children. I have no such dear memories. When I gave birth to my children he was never there, even though he was not in jail at the time.”

These words are littered with pain – pain that has followed Winnie all her life.

After Mandela’s release, Winnie continued on a path of , this time a personal in which she had to suffer the public humiliation following her divorce from Mandela and revelations of her affair with young advocate Dali Mpofu.

Now, after Mandela’s death, Winnie continues to suffer humiliation and be judged harshly in the court of public opinion. It is unfair and unwarranted.

Winnie deserves better. Even though they had been divorced for over 15 years, many South Africans, and maybe even Mandela himself, still loved Winnie. Carlin writes in his book about a press conference Mandela addressed on the divorce: “During the two decades I spent on Robben Island she was an indispensable pillar of support and comfort… My love for her remains undiminished. We have mutually agreed that a separation would be the best for each of us… I part from my wife with no recriminations. I embrace her with all the love and affection I have nursed for her inside and outside prison from the moment I first met her.”

I still consider her the Mother of our Nation. Winnie went through a lot of struggles for our country, so that we, including the late Mandela, can enjoy the freedom we have today.

I don’t understand why many find it bizarre that a man should leave his ex-wife an inheritance. Winnie was a good wife for the better part of their marriage. She raised two kids and they had a life together, full of struggle, pain and difficulty, but they loved each other.

People will always talk about the cheating scandal and how she messed up her own relationship with Tata and that that is the primary reason why she didn’t get anything. My take on it is that at the time of Madiba’s imprisonment Winnie was young, lonely, inexperienced, scared and, most crucially, vulnerable.

Anyone could have done what she did. Anyone. Under the circumstances she survived pretty well but reached a breaking point, which is normal for anyone who had been through what she went through, and that then led to her finding comfort in the arms of another man.

It’s only normal to want to feel a human touch and to want to feel desired and loved. All women want this. Winnie was no different. She is human and she is a woman.

Men and women today call her names all because of one mistake she made. They make it seem as though cheating first began with the old lady when we all understand that even married people, who share houses with their partners every day, cheat all the time while their partners are away on business, out with friends, and so on. So why are we so harsh on Winnie? Why are we acting like we don’t understand the reasons behind cheating?

The holier than thou attitude is sickening, to put it mildly. Men need to take a closer look at their own wives before condemning Winnie, because they may be leaving millions to a cheat.

The women who unduly criticise Winnie need to stop being judgemental and understand that something like that could happen in their marriage at any point and they will expect people’s sympathy.

I will never judge Winnie for having had an affair. Never – especially not under her circumstances.

As I listened on radio while the will was being read, I found myself thinking: “Wow, the apartheid system wins, again!”

Whether we like to believe it or not, this is all their fault. The collapsing of Tata’s marriage is to be blamed on them.

I often wonder how, if they had not taken Mandela to prison, things would have turned out. I think that Winnie and Madiba would still be together. I think that there would be no confusion with regards to who the title “Mother of our Nation” belongs to between Graça Machel and Winnie. I think that there would have been no Dali Mpofu.

I think that there would have been no divorce. I think there would have been no “bizarre” will for me to write about.

This was primarily the doing of our oppressors, who continued to indirectly oppress the Mandela family, especially Winnie.

Tata should have left Winnie a small piece of his wealth as a token of appreciation for all that she did for our nation, the very nation he loved, the very nation that he too fought and suffered for, and also as a “thank you” for raising his kids and taking care of his family while he was away.

The fact that he didn’t leave Winnie anything has left a bitter taste in my mouth and makes me wonder if he truly did forgive her, as he claimed he had done, years back? It makes me wonder if he truly was the man I thought he was: kind, forgiving and full of wisdom.

The last time Mandela’s will was updated was in 2008, which was about five years ago. I wonder if his wife, Graça, had reminded him in the recent years or months prior to his death to check and update his last, true wishes.

Surely there must have been someone who must have been holding his hand during his meeting with his attorneys.

Winnie should have received a share of Mandela’s wealth, but I guess the real reasons are known only to him and maybe Winnie herself.

Such a strong woman, sometimes I wonder how Winnie copes with life and with our judgemental society that refuses to accept Mandela’s own teachings of forgiveness. But I know one thing for sure: Winnie will survive. This, too, shall come to pass. I do hope that Tata is resting in peace, wherever he may be.

 * Shongwe is a Johannesburg based accountant. She writes in her personal capacity

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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