Winnie Mandela is Dead: I Cried a Little, Today

Winnie Mandela surrounded by the hunting pack of journalists. She was always expected to face us with a smile. Photograph ©️Ismaillagardien


2 April 2018.

You were like family. Sometimes more than that.

I argued with you. You yelled at me. So many times. You slammed the phone on me. I slammed the phone on you.

“Eish,” Bra Moffet, a photographer on Sowetan, told me after one tempestuous phone conversation with you, “You and Ma Winnie!” He shook his head and smiled.

I was a journalist. I wanted answers. You could not give me the answers I wanted. I hated you. I loved you.

There were times when we laughed. Other times we cried. You were stubborn. You were generous. You made me happy with your stoicism. Then you made me angry, again. I criticised you. I defended you. Nobody dared say anything bad about you.

When a Foreign Correspondent from the USA criticised you, I asked him how he thought his wife would have coped with what the apartheid state had done to Winnie Mandela for more than two decades.

We asked so much of you. We would never admit it, or even recognised it, but we received more from you – more than the answers we expected – more than we deserved.

“Did you see him?

“When will he be released?

“What did he say?”

“Is he in good health.”

You gave us – not just those of us who wrote stories about you, or shoved cameras and microphones into your face – your life, and your husband. I got to know him, for a few years. I had already known you for a decade longer. I think I knew you better.

I could not imagine you being someone’s wife. Someone’s “other”. You were Winnie. Not Nelson’s wife. You were a woman. Sometimes a tower of strength. Sometimes nasty.

I would have been nasty, too, if I had a camera, a notebook, a microphone shoved in my face whenever I appeared in public.

You were everything that humans are.

We were selfish. We were spoiled. When they let your husband walk free, we took him away, again, and never really gave him back. We were no different from his jailers, or from those who banished you.

We objectified you. We vilified you. Then we loved you, again.

In that rarest of moments, when object and subject meet on a field of common humanity, you whispered to me how you wished we (the hunting pack of journalists) would just leave you alone, and how you would love to go for a walk, by yourself. I have never felt so helpless.

Ring, ring.


“Hello, is Mrs Mandela there.”

“Who’s calling”

“It’s Makhathini, from Sowetan”

Muzzled Silence.

“She says she will call you back.”

Winnie Mandela had my number. She called me back. We argued, again, because she would not give me the answers I wanted. Then we laughed.

I cried a little, today. Hamba Kahle. I hope you find peace, now, Mrs Mandela.

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