In Greek Mythology, the Amazons were described as a tribe of warlike women, feared by their neighbours and holding their own in a male dominated world. They sure went down in history as a revered race.And in recent times, the word Amazon describes a tough woman whose uncommon zeal and desire to succeed makes her stand out from the pack. As the South African nation mourns the exit of one of its choicest citizens, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, I cannot but crown her a Modern Day Amazon.
A woman who took giant strides to end the gruesome regime of the apartheid government in South Africa.
A woman whose biography reads like scenes from a bestselling movie.
The youthful Winnie at the age of 22 years was standing at a bus-stop in Soweto when she caught the fancy of a man called Nelson Mandela; the one with whom she was to spend the next 38 years of her life and raised two daughters in addition. Her marital bliss was cut short when he was arrested and sent to prison for 27 years because of his opposition to the apartheid rule in South Africa.
Winnie, who was reported to have said of her husband, ‘I married a struggle, not a man,’ certainly was not surprised at the turn of events. For his outspokenness against the apartheid regime was clear for all to see.
It seemed then like her sun had set at noonday, but Winnie was eager to win, even in that bleak situation. She continued the apartheid struggle, through detention, house arrest, banning orders and solitary confinement.
She emerged out of it all to earn the well-deserved title of Mother of the Nation.
Described as an anti-apartheid activist and politician, Winnie left her footprints on the political landscape of South Africa, serving as a member of parliament from the year 1994 till her death, holding fort as the head of the Women’s League in the South African political party, African National Congress.
Winnie Mandela had some well-deserved awards to herself like the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, along with fellow activists Allan Boesak and Beyers Naudé for their human rights work in South Africa, the Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the recent award in January 2018 of an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree, in recognition of her fight against apartheid in South Africa.
The title of the opera produced in her honour, called The Passion Of Winnie aptly captures the essence of this inspiring woman whose passion indeed brought hope to a nation ravaged by oppression.
She has a native name called Nomzamo, which in the Xhosa dialect means, ‘She who tries.’ And we can say she did indeed tried.
When her mother, Gertrude died and the family broke up, forcing her and her siblings to live with different relatives, Winnie did try not to let the event shake her.
Winnie became the head girl in her school, probably the place where her leadership streak began to shine through.
She tried and did get quality education, taking degrees in Social Work and International Relations.
She tried with all her might to keep the home front when her husband was imprisoned in Robben Island.
She tried to keep his political legacy alive and became his public face during the 27 years he spent in jail.
Winnie probably tried hard to keep to the vows of fidelity she took at the altar with her husband.
But disturbing facts came to light.
She was accused of infidelity and had to let go of a man she had waited to reunite with, after 27 years.
Yet Winnie was still determined to try and keep Winning. She could have been called Winning Winnie in celebration of her passionate desire to win.
She refused to let the event break her spirit. When asked in a 1994 interview about the possibility of reconciliation, she said: “I am not fighting to be the country’s First Lady. In fact, I am not the sort of person to carry beautiful flowers and be an ornament to everyone.’
Winning Winnie was a woman of honour, who sought to create her own garland of flowers, refusing to die under the shadow of another.
She sets a worthy example for many who may have fallen out of grace. That they can still make from the shattered pieces of their lives, the masterpiece that will announce them to a waiting world.
It is not a perfect woman that I try to immortalise in this piece.
She had flaws and made mistakes that stained her spotless garments.
But she rose beyond the storms and sought the silver lining in the dark cloud. Through accusations of violence and other crimes, trials and near imprisonment, denial of rights and tarnishing of her image, Winnie still emerged fresh-faced, winning and still trying.
On the 2nd of April 2018, at the age of 81 years, Winnie answered the eternal call.
And it will not be far-fetched to say she emptied herself of many of the treasures she had been given to bless humanity, leaving a worthy legacy to her world.
For all around her home country and many other areas, Winnie’s footprints can be seen.
And many coming behind will walk behind those footprints and build stronger models of Amazons.
. Ifeanyi Omeni, prolific author, books editor, instructor and language expert, writes from Ajah, Lagos