[OPINION] Winnie: A recipient of the order of grace
The passing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has compelled many to reflect on the multiple narratives which have defined a woman who has become an iconic figure of the struggle for the humanity of a dehumanised people.
Her personal journey is strangely akin to the collective journey of the African people as a whole but perhaps more particularly, that of black South Africans and more specifically, that of black women, as they seek to redeem their collective identity from a haze of contorted, half-told and untold stories of their existence.
This strange connectedness of an individual to a global collective of the oppressed, explains to those who care to hear, what some have described as an “incomprehensible outpouring of the incoherent whaling of a people, at the inevitable passing of an 81-year-old woman”.
It seems difficult for society at times, in its vulgar attempt to make simplistic sense of the complexities of life, the dichotomies and the seemingly irreconcilable differences of human experience. This is what psychologists refer to as, cognitive dissonance.
The intellectual inability to respect the sheer undeniable presence of complexity in life and more specifically, human beings and the constant imposition of a simplistic dogmatism in any explanation. An unfortunate lazy mental exclusivity of ideas. This form of dissonance has been most evident in the narratives about her, since the death of Mama Winnie on 2, April 2018.
Since her passing, as is the custom, people have attempted to give voice to the deep sense of loss and grief that has engulfed many South Africans domestically and abroad. Politicians of every persuasion have eulogised her, while those who put pen to paper have written of the life and times of Nomzamo.
She has even inspired poets and composers to find that elusive spark of creativity. Who can discount the beautiful tribute in song and prose by Sello Chicco Thwala and the people’s poet Mzwakhe Mbuli, as they sang “Winnie was there!”? From Julius’s bellicose rants outside mama’s home to Mbeki’s untimely venomous verbiage in a television studio. What of the rare, palpable and genuine pain of Nomvula Mokonyane as she lost her wit and eloquence in the deluge of grief on the day she learned of mama’s passing?
In all of these different accounts about the life and times of Winnie, there seems to have been great difficulty in expressing the complexity of the woman, her struggle and the time in which she lived with honest acceptance. She has been described in concerning binary, confused and caricatured terms as saint or sinner, villain or hero, Madonna or whore without exploring the possibility of her occupancy of all those offices at the same time.
It has been said by those who dabble in the deeper arguments of theological philosophy, that the elusive redemptive divine faculty of Grace through the forgiveness of sins is not reserved for angels, for they know nothing of sin. Nor is it for devils and demons for, they are the very instruments of judgement and therefore irredeemable.
Human beings, however, goes the argument, are the only candidates for grace, for it is they and they alone that can experience both the lofty heights of piety and the lowest forms of depravity, at the same time. It is in them and only through them, that the most sovereign attribute of God can be expressed, the attribute of grace through forgiveness of sin for those who live faithfully and truthfully, the only true expression of his/her divine nature. The only way by which s/he can show off his/her deity and power, making human beings the most favoured of the creatures of the creator, as they are necessary partakers in the project of his/her unfolding revelation.
Be that as it may.
The confused layers of messaging about Winnie, are not a reflection of Winnie, she is who she is, a true human being. They are the confused expressions of a society that attempts to box her identity in its hypocritical categories. It is the prism of patriarchy, oppressive religiosity and political expediency through which we attempt to look at her that distorts the image and not the image itself which is at fault here.
The abiding narratives of her imperfections, her indiscretions and alleged crimes are proof of the rabid desire to control her even in death. The confessions of Stratcom’s Paul Erasmus, the former Apartheid security agency operative whose most vigorous campaign was to discredit Winnie.
The collaboration of certain senior comrades in her beloved ANC with the apartheid system to destroy her influence. Former Police commissioner George Fivaz’s absolution of Winnie in the case of Stompie Seipei. All of these examples of her innocence in the ever-present accusations will not deter her detractors. They are committed to their calling of lies.
The fingers pointed at her for her “infidelity” in marriage, are nothing but an attempt to drive a wedge between her and Madiba’s freedom fighting legacy against Apartheid, by imposing a docility on both her sexually and on her militancy. A docility demanded by strange notions of moral rectitude demanded of women but never of men.
She was in a fight for goodness sake! A real fight for the humanity of black people in a regime that sought to undermine that very humanity! If this was a marriage, marriages go wrong and they break up under the best of circumstances. I wonder how many marriages would survive the separation, isolation, loneliness, humiliation suffered by the Mandelas.
Nomzamo lived and loved loudly and proudly in a world that wished to silence her humanity and make her a mongrel of no particular origin instead of the woman, human that she is. And so we weep because she showed us how to live instead of merely exist.
We weep for ourselves because we recognise ourselves in her journey, reflected in her strength, her weakness, her resolve, her fallibility her vulnerability, her complexity and simplicity, her beauty, her ugliness her courage and cowardice.
She, like many a luminary before her showed us the price of true freedom and the challenge of attaining it. The challenge that declares that “freedom is not free” and can only be experienced by human beings. That pain and the bruises of life which shape our humanity are the price of that freedom. That those who seek it can only have it by grace, a special grace that can only come from being human - truly human, in all its glorious complexities.
Nomzamo attained humanity,ubuntu. We weep because we are thankful to have breathed the same air as one so gracious and generous in spirit and indeed, for a life lived truthfully and faithfully.
Farewell mama, till we meet again.
Aubrey Masango is a host at Talk Radio 702.