[OPINION] Mama, we are sorry, we have failed you…
Mama, we are sorry, we have failed you …
Mama in your name and memory, help us fight patriarchy and sexism.
Mama Nomzamo, your life and legacy continues to be debated, splitting your people between a false binary of the saint or sinner narrative of your life. People are verbally tearing each other apart on how you should be remembered, caught up in an uneasy dichotomy of hero or villain. Your people continue to seek answers, asking which version of events of your life are truer. The ghosts of apartheid and StratCom agents must be laughing at us again, for the impact of their propaganda lingers on.
But laughing the most is sexism and misogyny perpetuated by individuals who head our newsrooms. Not even 24 hours after you had been laid to rest, DA MP Natasha Mazzone was labelled a woman with blonde ambitions.
Mama we live among hypocrites, who claim to be feminists, defenders of women’s rights, the vanguards of gender equality, and some of them were probably seated in the public gallery at your funeral crying the loudest, yet we failed to call out misogyny because it is insidious in its nature, and at worst internalised by women.
Mama, you said that you are the product of the masses of your country, and the product of your enemy. Mama your enemy was not only the apartheid regime, but white supremacist heteropatriarchy, and a black man, an editor-in-chief of a national paper revives its dirty work, seeking to police your body even in your death. While many attempted to re-write your history, changing the narrative, Mondli Makhanya, in his dismal attempt to mansplain the complexities of you, went on a mission to sully your name with his sexism, in his article We must not want to be Winnie.
Our outrage has been modest, if anything, silent, making us complicit to the everyday sexism we abhor. Some have responded to his article, his colleague Rhode Marshall and feminist, writer and journalist Gail Smith being just two of those who did so. We do not deny him the right to present an alternative narrative to your legacy, but we take exception to the sexist and degrading language he used to remember you and the lack of depth in his article, coming from an individual who heads a newsroom and who was a journalist during the period he narrates about.
We know of the violence and brutality you braved Mama, because we have seen how you were constantly harassed, shoved around, manhandled by the security police. We watched the documentaries Mama, we know what the psychological warfare waged against you can do to a person. The banning orders, the constant surveillance and torture. We saw what it did to you Mama, we saw you cry bitterly over Chris Hani’s lifeless body, we saw you bury the young fallen soldiers of the anti-apartheid struggle; opened your house to those destitute, comforted many, spoke for the voiceless. But the brutality you experienced in those dark days endures even today, morphed in pen and paper.
Even then you always bounced back, much stronger, more defiant, and more determined. You are the female superhero filmmakers are yet to mould a character out of. Long before Wonder Woman and Cat Woman, we already had a heroine walking amongst us, a masterpiece of subversive feminism. That was you Mama. But Makhanya dares to call you a “rebel”, damaged goods from Brandfort, all because you defied expectations, dared to be different and deviant from social norms, yet here he is pathologizing you.
Mama, some of us don’t care about your licentious, or “wayward ways” as he calls it. He paints a story of a loose woman, whose indiscretions and midnight misdemeanors had devastating consequences. You made Nelson Mandela wait, and a whole country anxious. It would be no surprise if those he claims are still angry at you for delaying the release of Nelson Mandela were at your funeral, kissing and embracing your daughters and family. But Makhanya wants us to care.
Did he not hear about how Stratcom agents played the local and international press about you being a “hopeless drunkard, unstable, and having relationships with everyone that came along”, a lie that has stuck for many years? Yet in his lazy piece of work, he omits this piece of history. He must have known Mama, because he was there during that period, he appeared before the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission speaking on behalf of black journalists.
And even if there was truth to this Mama, you liberated us from the essentialist ideology of how a good woman ought to behave. We no longer want to be prisoners of gender and essentialism. He called you names Mama: “a wayward individual”, “errant Winnie”, “damaged goods”. Mama, we take exception to his attempt to police your body, using gendered motifs.
Mama, he also writes that when it comes to you, we either “tell the story of a saint or the story of a villain – it is never the story of the complete person.” True. But where is the complete story of the men who died before you Mama? Why are most male heroes of the struggle bid farewell with a single heroic narrative and halos above their heads? The hagiographies of these men have, to a certain degree, been widely accepted uncritically, unchallenged, but when it comes to you Mama, we should beware the dangers of a single-story.
He further says you thought yourself to be above the ANC when you ignored the instructions to disband the Mandela Football Club and the acts of necklacing. He finds comfort in leaders who worked within structures [of the ANC], who subjected themselves to inconveniences such as attending meetings and being given duties to perform, while you preferred being the star act who headlined rallies and marches. Why are you condemned? Why is the position for the woman always to be submissive? Why does he reproduce gendered motifs?
Mama, he refuses to recognise your agency; that you were the master of your own choices and decisions. Even if the decisions you made were against your better judgment, you still made decisions. Is this not what we should all aspire to? To have agency and will. Instead he chooses to see your behaviour as “ungovernability of the highest order.” We say you were ahead of your time, our present time, ahead of the future, for we still struggle to find our voice to challenge the dominant walls of patriarchy.
Mama, he asks that we do not emulate you, and makes a case why we should not be you. Who is the “we” he speaks of Mama, because I want to be you. Why does Makhanya make assumptions of us? Why does he make assumptions that we are a homogenous lot? Is it male privilege that affords him the right to patronise us? Why must a woman be a docile, meek being, whose only role is servitude?
He says you lacked humility Mama, that you were a glory-seeking individual.
Mama, why are men so spiteful towards women charting their own path, whether good or bad? Even Mondli Makhanya points to how the leaders, both internal and external, were united on one thing, and one thing alone - limiting your power? Julius Malema says men of the ANC blocked you from being Thabo Mbeki’s deputy president because they feared you. Jacob Zuma, he says, robbed you of the chance to be our future president. Did he not help put Zuma in power? Did you and him ever talk about this time? How can you lack humility when you continued to have a close relationship with him?
Why were you (and continue to be) feared so much? Was it your sassiness that upset men like Mondli Makhanya; was it because you walked like you got oil wells pumping in your living room? Did your sexiness upset them? Was it because, even in adversity, you laughed like you got gold mines digging in your backyard, danced like you had diamonds at the meeting of your thighs. And your crime? For simply being the “Other”, embodying all that man fears and despises, yet desires, and you continue to do so in the afterlife.
He says at no point should any of us want to be your replica. But you did not die Mama, you multiplied. You united women across the globe and it’s the connection between women that is most feared, most problematic, and patriarchy cannot stomach the collective public adulation and exaltation that you received, that men like Mondli Makhanya had to kill your memory with their hatefulness. His attack on you Mama is an attack to the woman body politic. We are still waiting for an apology.
Mama we want to fight sexism but lack the same spirit and will that you possessed. We want to make an example out of Mondli Makhanya and other sexists, just as they did with Vicki Momberg. We want to be militant and angry Mama, tear down the walls of patriarchy that harbour and nurture sexism and misogyny. If not in your name, then to get these misogynists off of our backs. You gave us a signal Nobandla, Zanyiwe, Nomzamo. You said: Na nini na, singayisusa! We are ready.
Andiswa Makanda an award-winning producer at 702. She writes in her personal capacity.