I decided to write this piece after seeing this picture, shot for the Associated Press by Schalk van Zuydam, of Winnie Mandela sadly looking on as her ex-husband, Nelson Mandela, interacts in unison with his new wife, Graca Machel. This picture saddens me dearly as I recall an interview with a vibrant Winnie Mandela on the show “Conversations with Felicia” on the Africa Channel . She was asked about her love life & she responded by saying she belongs to the people & has too much work to be done for the people to have time to feel sad about certain things like not having a love life. This is clearly not true just by looking at this picture. There are so many strong, powerful, loving women who have met the fate of Winnie Mandela. The women who fought by their husband’s side for evolutions in revolution, the women who worked 2-3 jobs, held up the home front while putting their own dreams aside in order to help their husbands/significant others attain their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, actors, musicians, politicians etc.; the women who ended up being left alone after the dream & glory was attained, with sometimes not even a mere thank you!
This picture was taken at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s freedom as a political prisoner, but the world forgot to celebrate the woman who kept his story & fight alive for the world to take notice. The world forgot to celebrate the woman who was also a political prisoner, stigmatized, antagonized & brutalized along side of Nelson Mandela, the woman who took care of & protected their children while making sure that her husband had a home to come to after attaining the freedom which she diligently & courageously fought for him to attain, the woman who stood by his side & fought with him to bring an end to apartheid along with becoming president, the woman who even in her heartache sits by his side to honor him- knowing that she must continue the fight for freedom that was started in their togetherness of love & desire to uplift & to bring freedom to their people, without the man she once leaned on & counted on in the struggle. Winnie Mandela is left with the heartache knowing that she can no longer share the bond of love with the man who has become the face & the symbol of the struggle, while her fight & insurmountable contributions for freedom continue to fall by the waist side & to be seemingly forgotten as a brief reference to the full Nelson Mandela story. Would we be celebrating the 20th year anniversary of Winnie’s “Madiba” AKA Nelson Mandela’s freedom without the fight & voice of Winnie Mandela? His celebration of freedom is just as much hers as it is his & maybe even more hers because she withstood all the adversity & consequences of the fight to attain his freedom while often forsaking her own.
I completely understand why Winnie Mandela chose to not lead the 500-meter march from the former Victor Verster prison in Paarl, Western Cape, which was to recreate the walk she took with her ex-husband after he was released from prison. She declined by just saying it was just too exhaustive for her. This walk holds so much history & memories that one can see how & why it would not only be physically but also mentally exhausting. Winnie Mandela has done her best in giving all of herself toward the people’s work, so it is time to grant her her just due recognition & allow her to be open to the love & comfort that she also deserves.
Where will President Obama be without Michelle? Where would Martin Luther King Jr. have been without Coretta? Where would Kwame Nkrumah have been without Fathia? Where would Malcolm X have been without Betty? The only difference in the world continuing to celebrate these great women is that they stayed married to their husbands & therefore will forever be celebrated within the full stories of their husbands. Once you become the ex-wife and a new woman becomes the wife, does that erase all of your accomplishments & contributions to the success & popularity of the man who is praised by the world? For Winnie Mandela did seems to be sadly the case, which makes me think this is why women like Hillary Clinton stay in marriages even after being done wrong, whereas many other women would have left. Would Hillary Clinton have had the opportunity to be heralded the way she was, as the first woman (after Shirley Chisholm) to have come so close to winning the US presidency had she chosen to divorce Bill Clinton? Would we have let all of her accomplishments and contributions to Bill Clinton being praised on the world stage fall by the waist side & forgotten had she divorced him & had he gotten a new wife? We do not hear very much about French President Sarkozy’s ex-wife Cécilia and all of her accomplishments & contributions toward getting him to the presidency. After choosing to get a divorce, she basically became a pariah in her own country just as Winnie Mandela was in the ridicule & scandalous allegations against her after her divorce from Nelson Mandela.
“I was betrayed by close friends. I don’t hold it against them. Such is human nature. I understand that the gold of the French Republic could tempt more than one…At the end of the day I have become more serene. I kept 70 per cent of my friends. Real friendships came to the fore. I left behind those who hurt me.” Cécilia Sarkozy AKA Cécilia Attias
Unlike Winnie Mandela , Cécilia Attias at least had the opportunity to hold the title of first lady, which she had worked for as the intelligent mouthpiece & pretty face with a more soothing temperament that made her husband more palatable to the French public. Unlike Winnie Mandela, Cécilia Attias recognized that being a strong, powerful woman does not leave you without the need and capacity to make & take time to be loved & to take comfort in a man’s hands because it is nature & nurture’s way to need the comfort of love, which no amount of dedication to nor accomplishment in one’s life’s work can bring or replace.
Standing by your man should never be the consumption & definition of any woman because a partnership should be defined by reciprocity. As much as we may fantasize of love that lasts forever, people change & love fades, so we must be able to let go for the purpose of redefinition, renewal, new love & new life. To all my strong, powerful & loving women, never believe that you do not have time nor need the love & comfort of a man or woman-depending on your personal preference- because that love & comfort is often the solace & energy one needs the most to do the work of the people & to live your best life! To Mama Winnie, I say “Amanza” because you are the woman who truly personifies & made me understand the word for Freedom!
This & Every Black History & Women’s History month let’s shout “Amanza” in honor & homage to Winnie Mandela -A true Fighter for Freedom!