Ready For Liberation: Winnie Mandela Believed in “By Any Means Necessary” — Others Could Learn



A life of struggle and resistance—Winnie Mandela, beautiful during her 80th birthday last year. Photo: South African government website.

Africa has just lost one of its greatest Queen Mothers with the passing of Winnie Mandela a champion of the liberation struggle against Apartheid and former wife of African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela on Monday, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Queen Mother Mandela was 81 and most of her life since age 24 was devoted to struggle.

She was born Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela in the village of Mbongweni, in the town of Bizana, Pondoland in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, on September 26, 1936. The daughter of two teachers, she earned a degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in international relations. Before meeting her future husband, Nelson Mandela, she worked, among other jobs, as a social worker in Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital.

On a fateful day in 1957, she meet Nelson Mandela then a lawyer in the law firm of Mandela and Tambo, with future ANC revolutionary Oliver Tambo, who was to become President of the ANC. The Mandela and Tambo firm was the first law firm in South Africa run by Blacks.

By 1958, with the dissolution of his first marriage, to Evelyn Mase, Nelson Mandela married Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela giving her the name the world knows her by: Winnie Mandela, or simply “Winnie” to many. This husband and wife team would ardently fight successive racist and brutal apartheid governments –with Nelson lending moral weight to the struggle from behind bars for 27 years.

A personal tragedy for the pair was that they never enjoyed the intimacy of marriage as Mandela began his life sentence in 1963. After his release in 1990, they continued the struggle for liberation but nearly three decades of incarceration had taken its toll on matrimony and the couple divorced in 1996.

Mandela had become South Africa’s first Black president in 1994, ending centuries of total European domination and nearly half a century of official apartheid.

For 27 years, while her husband was imprisoned on Robben Island, Winnie Mandela carried the torch of liberation struggle and fought fiercely against the racist government of South Africa. She fought in the great tradition of ancient African warrior-queens, like Queen Nandi, Queen Mantatisi, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Amina, and Empress Taytu Betul.
When history and circumstances propelled this social worker into the frontlines of liberation struggle she did not flinch.

She was not afraid to physically resist the apartheid goons — security officers who handled her roughly during the numerous arrests she endured. She herself was incarcerated for 17 months at one point and was also banned, meaning most people could not even visit her home; she lived under practical house arrest and was trailed and harassed by security agents wherever she traveled.

Few people even reflect on the physical and mental toll this must have taken on her. It is a wonder that she lived to 81 and up til her last years was still engaged in the struggle — insisting that there must be land justice in South Africa otherwise the end of formal apartheid would be meaningless. White South Africans who make up 9% of the population still control nearly 75% of the land. The valuable mining resources and nearly 90% of the wealth are also still controlled by Whites.

Winnie Mandela was not a turn-the-other-cheek freedom fighter. She believed that the apartheid monstrosity did not respect that. The evidence was abundant, in the form of the massacres of young South Africans, in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960 and in Soweto, on June 16, 1976.

Because of Winnie Mandela’s uncompromising stance and embrace of a “by any means necessary” approach, some in the West chose to focus on denouncing her for violent activities that occurred within the context of the armed conflict and warfare against South Africa’s fearsome conventional military — the most powerful on the continent and tacitly backed by all the NATO countries, and conducting military cooperation with Israel.

In particular, Winnie Mandela was accused of sanctioning the torture and murder of several individuals, including Stompie Moeketsi –an alleged police informer. Many of these Westerners called her “controversial” –as Malcolm observed in 1962, this is a term used against a person that the establishment wants to isolate or demonize– while ignoring the ugly and vicious context in which the war against apartheid was being waged.

It is also not as if Winnie Mandela believed in a strategy that was at odds with the ANC’s. Many people forget that after the Sharpeville massacre it became evident that apartheid would not yield to street protests and court challenges alone. Indeed, Nelson Mandela himself had embraced armed struggle and received training in Algeria from the FNL freedom fighters who later on routed the French.

It is not widely known that it was the CIA that provided South African intelligence the tip that led to the capture of Nelson Mandela and his subsequent trial and incarceration.

Clearly, what upsets many is the fact that Winnie Mandela did not believe non-violence would work in South Africa against apartheid. Why would she, when thousands of her compatriots, including brilliant young South Africans like Bantu Steve Biko were being murdered while in detention?

No, Winnie Mandela was a warrior-queen. For many Westerners, Blacks who fight oppression can only be praised if they do so with a non-violent approach. As Malcolm said in a Message To The Grassroots, they were told to “let your blood flow in the streets.” Blacks must denounce the dishonesty of those who articulate this while praising warmongers in Washington, and in the English Parliament.

The resistance must always live up to the challenges. When Americans decided to fight the English to throw off the yoke of colonialism was that not justified? How do you imagine Americans regarded people who insisted, at that time, that they should pursue only a “non-violent” approach against the tyrannical English monarchy?

While we are still on the subject of America, this week we also honor the supreme sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life was extinguished by the bullets of an assassin –or assassins– 50 years ago. Dr. King showed us one way to resist oppression, using the tactic of non-violence, which combined with the expose of the ugly nature of Southern racism on American television had significant impact. Moreover, at the time, how could America ask Blacks to go die in Vietnam for “freedom” while the whole world was seeing the ugly scene from the South?

The world also saw the ugly images of Sharpeville and later Soweto but the apartheid regime was still relentless. Moreover, America is far from the ideal of a nation guided by justice as envisioned by Dr. King. We see the increasing level of racism under a reactionary bigoted president, Donald Trump. Even King, it was quite evident with his latter speeches, including the one denouncing the war on Vietnam, was beginning to question his strategy.

Additionally, at different times in this country’s history, Black people have engaged in by any means necessary strategies. Harriet Tubman, with rifle in hand, would threaten runaway enslaved Africans she was rescuing, who wanted to turn back, with death. There were numerous uprisings by enslaved Africans including Nat Turner’s. Many of the rebellious enslaved Africans probably knew the fate that awaited them –castration, burning, quartering, lynching– but given the horrific conditions under which they suffered and their yearning for freedom they took up arms.

So, there are no simple and easy choices when one is fighting against armed racist oppression. Winnie Mandela surely understood this.

Reflection –or silence– would better serve White people who are always trying to tell Black people that non-violence is the only acceptable tactic to use. Why do Whites always expect Black lives to be sacrificed –“let your blood flow in the streets” –in ways they would never sacrifice theirs?

Of course, they make an exception such as when the U.S. wants to send our people, armed, to fight in foreign wars for “democracy” and “justice” abroad while denying the same ideals to millions of its Black citizens at home.

Black people all over the world must reject this duplicitous double standard. If violence is acceptable when Whites claim they are fighting for democracy or against the tyranny of England — it must also be acceptable when Blacks are trying to liberate themselves or preserve their lives.

This is what Winnie Mandela believed in for her South African people.

Here in America, we see the continued anguish of mothers and grandmothers who are losing sons and daughters to racist violence by police. Yet, the focus of politicians, and those in the corporate media establishment, is often on whether the protesters were peaceful or not; those reacting to the abuse are the ones given a litmus test –will they react the way we say they must?

Winnie Mandela would have rejected and denounced this approach a long time ago.

Why is violence by White people more acceptable in America?
Whites are allowed to have guns. Black are killed by police because an officer claims she or he believed a Black man’s wallet or cellphone was a gun or he made a “furtive movement”–or in the case of officer Darren Wilson who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, the teenager looked “demonic.”

This must end.

We cannot allow people, who won’t act to stop gun violence in America, to tell us Winnie Mandela is an unacceptable role model, because of accusations she engaged in violence while fighting apartheid. Winnie Mandela is the personification of a mother protector. She was the female lioness who protects “to the death” her cubs.

This is how Black people, in South Africa, and around the world, should always remember her.

Like the historic ancient African warrior-queens, she gave her heart and soul for Africans and Africa.

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