YONELA DIKO: Zindzi Mandela, an unconquerable soul


The aim of apartheid was to swamp and frustrate and brutalise every African with an irreplaceable spark until they lay flat and decided to fight no more, defeated and dead inside. They came for Nelson Mandela, but with each year of his incarceration, his spark was rippling across the globe and frustrating his jailers. They came for Winnie Mandela, she would fight them to the bitter end and came out on the other side with a blaze that could not be put out.

Like a family jewel passed on from parent to daughter, that blaze and ripple of light that apartheid securocracy could not extinguish was past on to the youngest daughter, Zindzi. When Zindzi plunged into a stadium packed to its rafters armed with a message from her father in 1985, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, she was also armed with her own message, that if my father does not make it, that if they kill my mother, I'm the next in line, you are the next in line, and they cannot kill us all.

So began a South African story, an African story, a child born into the struggle, born with a target on her back, Mandela vs the government of the day. At the young age of barely three, Zindzi would go through the same state-induced hardship against her parents, especially her mother, every step of the way and she would learn to endure, she would grow a lion's heart and even when the political freedom was won, she would demand justice for black people, and there would be no Kumbaya until all that had been brutally taken away, the years that had been lost, the lives and livelihoods that had been brutally lost, would be fully restored and those responsible faced justice.

Since then, Zindzi fought like a warrior, over and against a hostile opinion by those who sought to trap her in the legacy of her father. Zindzi had to fight for her happiness and fight to live her truth with intensity and honesty that no traps, no projections, no manipulation would ever lower her sights and dim her light.

Carving her own path!

The only time I met Zindzi we were launching the book of her father, a compilation of letters he had written to her mother while he was in prison. All South Africans had come out to celebrate this moment with the Mandela family, from John Kani to Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, it was a great celebration. Zindzi took centre stage, although the shadow of her father loomed large, all eyes were on her, this great daughter of Nelson Mandela, was she up to the demands of her last name. Zindzi took all of us to her own thoughts, imbued both in her own memories and her own duty to champion new struggles. We came out of that launch fully aware that the battle for a black child is far from over.

Zindzi could never accept that every indice in this country has a black face, from poverty to unemployment to homelessness, and that was not by natural allocation, it was a product of social engineering which had robbed her and her parents and all black South Africans of a fair and early start to life. This could not be swept under the carpet and the nerve of some white people to think they can 'whitesplain' this engineered reality and put a claim on their death-squared benefits irked Zindzi so much and she could never pretend.

There is a box for all black people who refuse to accept the white comfort with the benefits of their evil forebears. Angry, black, racist, even kaffir. While the tools of propaganda are still in the hands of the former oppressor, heroes are turned into villains for refusing to accept the real villains' claim to the loot. Zindzi endured it all, but she remained unbowed. She knew all the tricks, that if you remained polite, made no sudden moves, smiled at them, maybe there is a place for you at the top. If you did not acknowledge them, refused to legitimise them, daughter of Nelson Mandela, first daughter, what is she so angry about, she is not poor, Zindzi knew that 'The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see'.

Zindzi knew that the easiest thing and most rewarding would be to accept the script written for her, the glory of her name, the doors it could open, and build an empire that would rival the riches of white capital. But as she did then, in 1985, her financial freedom could not be separated from the people's prosperity. 35 years later, she was still the same daughter, tied at the hip with the oppressed people of the country.

Zindzi Mandela, like her mother, had the courage to be wholly devoted to what is just and fair. Reconciliation was good but it was sitting heavy on the backs of black people and there was no willingness on the part of white people to shoulder the yoke. Seeking justice in a world that wants to forget, an oppressor still dominant in every sphere of life, comes at a high cost. Zindzi and her mother were willing to pay it over again, all the cost, all the sacrifices.

The country is ours!

Zindzi Mandela loved life so much that she could never live it to tiptoe around anyone's fragile sensibilities, especially those so well served by an unfair status quo. Zindzi was her own woman and made no apologies for it. She rejected those who sought to trap her in the legacy of her father, because she knew that as strange as they were treating her, her father remained a stranger to them too, a sojourner, as was her mother. They never truly loved him, for racists' attitudes are self-serving, and when you see them change, you must know that it is only because such a shift is beneficial to the racist.

Zindzi's mother had a story, it was a story of old black men, friends of her fathers, stripped of their dignity by young white boys who had the power of the state. Zindzi had heard her mother’s tales daily and lived to experience her own brutal memories of seeing thousands of black people humiliated, without work, tossed to and fro like the waves of the sea, without a station or a security of a home, and like her mother, she vowed that until the dignity of black people is restored and those who took it are made to pay, justice will never be truly served.

ZIndzi was on a path of her own, carved out of the best parts of both her towering parents, and she walked armed with nothing but faith of youth and passion of new roads. There were things that were not acceptable and it did not matter the long suffering that came with stating and standing by her truth, it did not matter how long it would take for everyone to stand on that truth, and not accept anything less, she was going to stand alone if needs be.

While most people know that there has been no justice for black people, they have chosen to keep quiet, tied as they are to this imperfect system, like a shop keeper who knows that screaming about injustice won't change the reality of his rent when its due, due to the very oppressor who fights his justice.

Zindzi was ready to lose it all and this may well be her legacy. She fought for freedom and would never accept any form of bondage and delayed justice in order to please the very people who destroyed her family and the black family.

May her death stir us into action and makes us reject the reality that continues to make black people observers in the mainstream and wealth of their own country.

Go well Zindzi! No country could have asked more of you.
Thank you!!

Yonela Diko is spokesperson of the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. He writes in his personal capacity