Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: A Warrior in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle, Mourned by the Masses of South Africa
Weizmann Hamilton, Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) Executive Committee member, South Africa
With the passing of Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, the African National Congress lost arguably the most beloved and certainly one of the greatest of the leaders of her generation.
Denied an opportunity in life to acknowledge her role, she is now being celebrated in death by the thousands. The magnitude of public sympathy has been such that a deeply divided ANC leadership, the majority of whom either actively or passively contributed to her isolation, ostracism and the erasure from history of her stellar contribution to the struggle that put them in power, are now putting on a display of nauseating hypocrisy in an attempt to bask in her reflected glory to avoid electoral Armageddon in the 2019 general elections.
This rogue’s gallery of latter-day Winnie praise singers includes the corrupt collaborator with the Gupta family on the run from the police, ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule and former Free State Premier. He has yet to explain what happened to the millions set aside ten years ago for the conversion of the Brandfort house, in which Winnie served her banishment, into a museum.
The drama that was Winnie’s life entailed being sent into internal exile twice. The first by the apartheid regime to separate her from and prevent her from fanning the flames of revolt of the youth uprising that began in Soweto where she lived. The second by her own party and its predecessors, beginning in 1989 to clear the way for the ANC’s capitulation in the negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa).
A hurricane of vilification and slander engineered by the apartheid regime completely engulfed the leadership of the movement. It saw Winnie being denounced by the ANC’s predecessor, the United Democratic Front; charged and convicted of the kidnapping and assault of Stompie Sepei; separation from Mandela in 1992; her exclusion from the VIP seats at Mandela’s inauguration as president in 1994; the subject of the reopening of the Stompie Sepei murder case twice under Nelson Mandela’s reign despite the conviction of the actual murderer, and the only ANC leader hauled before the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under instruction by her own government. The TRC hearing was calculated to humiliate in quasi-judicial proceedings that not even lowly apartheid police had been subjected to. It was timed to take place shortly before the ANC’s 1997 conference where she had been nominated as deputy president and possible successor to her ex-husband.
Embarrassingly for the ANC leadership, confessions on radio and television by an apartheid era security police, the republication of an expose first published in 1995 in the Mail & Guardian and most of all the screening on a cable network this week of the Sundance award-winning documentary, “Winnie” , contain revelations of the astonishing scale of the apartheid regime’s State Security Council’s psychological warfare against the mass movement and the ANC, with the discrediting of Winnie at the centre of the Covert Strategic Communications (Stratton) division’s Operation Romulus. Former apartheid security police, Paul Erasmus, in an interview on television, said he had received a commendation, especially for drawing into this network half of British Prime Minister John Major’s cabinet and Baroness Nicholson, for the most successful such “Black Ops” in history. Social media has erupted with outrage, with comment such as “all these years we praised the wrong Mandela” and “Nelson Mandela sold out”. Even leaders of the corrupt ANC Youth League are demanding that the documentary be screened on the public broadcaster.
But her ostracism has not erased from the popular consciousness memories of her unbreakable defiance in the face of police raids on her home, twenty-four hour surveillance, repeated banning and house arrest orders, imprisonment and torture in solitary confinement. Throughout all this she remained unbroken and unbowed. She was the living embodiment of the slogan “wathinthi’ bafazi wa thinti’ mbokodo” (‘you strike a woman, you strike a rock’). No other political leader in SA history, man or woman, has endured such persecution.
In one of the more touching tributes Shireen Hassim, Professor of Political Studies, WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand, in The Conversation (03/04/2018): “No other woman – in life and after – occupies the place that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela does in South African politics. A stalwart of the African National Congress (ANC), she nevertheless stands above, and at times outside, the party. Her iconic status transcends political parties and geographical boundaries, generations and genders. Poets have honoured her, writers have immortalised her and photographers have adored her.”
The outpouring of emotion that has followed Winnie’s death is comparable to that for Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of Staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). Hani was assassinated in April, 1993, a year before the historic first democratic elections.
Throughout the period since the death of the “mother of the nation” at 81 years of age on Monday 2 April, her Soweto home has seen daily pilgrimages, entire radio and television programmes dedicated to providing tributes and commentary and blanket coverage of countrywide memorial services. Musicians and poets have come together to provide concerts and recitals. Thousands up and down the country have flocked to town hall rallies and church services to pay homage. Even the full squads of the country’s biggest football clubs, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, have been to her home to pay their respects. A ten-day official period of mourning ended the day before her burial on 14 April, after a special ‘category one’ state funeral.
This outpouring of sympathy and her eulogizing is a reflection not only of the role she played in the struggle but also the current political mood. In circumstance where the economy is in the grip of a deep crisis, the masses facing searing poverty, equality and mass unemployment, and the country is swimming in the sewage of corruption scandals. Winnie has in death, as she did in life, partly acted as a lightning rod for the discontent of the masses. The eulogies have offered an opportunity, particularly for young black women, to deliver a public rebuke of the political class, especially the ANC elite for ostracizing her. Their greed, factionalism, and indifference to the plight of the masses are being counterposed to Winnie’s unflagging dedication to the masses, her selflessness and her sacrifices.
Winnie’s passing has also provided the occasion for an acknowledgment and criticism even from within the ANC itself, of her marginalization by her own party, for howling along with the wolves in the sullying of her reputation. In an article headed “Winnie Mandela was deserted by the movement”, Ayanda Dlodlo, Minister of Public Service and Administration and former MK operative, points an accusing finger at her own party, reminding it of the great risks MK operatives and Winnie took to be in contact with the undergound: “It is a stain on the ANC flag that Mam’ Winnie hoisted outside her house for decades, that our organisation ostracized her, and sought to banish her from the collective life of an organization that means so much for her and around which her identity was built.” (Sunday Independent, 08/04/18)
In a sense, Winnie’s death is a new, more palpable phase in the demise of the ANC. With her passing, the last flame of what was once progressive about the ANC that flickered in Winnie, has been extinguished.
Drawn into struggle young
Winnie experienced her political baptism as personal tragedy. Pondoland, in the Eastern Cape, where she was born in 1936, formed part of the Transkei homeland headed by Kaizer Matanzima. In 1951, the apartheid regime introduced the Bantu Authorities Act. This was one of the legislative cornerstones for the construction of ethnic entities “homelands”. These Bantustans were located in the remotest, most barren, and under-developed 13% of the land reserved for blacks to exercise their “citizenship” as “independent” states outside the 87% appropriated for whites by since 1913.
Her father, Columbus, would not cooperate with the people in the resistance against this measure. The resistance, organized by the elders, attacked the family home, burning the hut to the ground and assaulting Winnie’s step-mother so severely that she was paralysed, later succumbing to her injuries. The struggle against the apartheid regime had exacted its first sacrifice from her. The family was split by her father’s betrayal. She lost her second mother; her first, biological mother, was claimed by tuberculosis, along with her elder sister when she was only nine years old.
Winnie’s independent identity
Winnie may have been catapulted to national and international fame through her marriage to someone who would become the world’s most famous political prisoner, Nelson, but she carved out from this political marriage her own independent political persona.
Her journey into a lifetime of political activism, however, preceded her marriage to Mandela. Her independent involvement began not long after she had come to Johannesburg, starting work as the first qualified black social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. She joined the ANC Womens League and the Federation of SA Women. She participated in the 1958 march from Soweto to Johannesburg to protest the introduction of pass laws for women, organized by Adelaide Tambo and Lillian Ngoyi.
Although her marriage to Nelson was without doubt the most significant factor that shone the political spotlight on her at the time, Winnie’s role, especially after his imprisonment, assured her the place she rightly occupies as a colossus of the struggle against apartheid, in her own right. She wrote in one of her letters to Mandela, in prison 12 years after their marriage, recalling the, “trembling little girl of 23 in a shabby little back veld church… it was not to you only that I said ‘I do’. It was to you and all you stand for. The one without the other would have been incomplete for me. ” (Sunday Times, 08/04/18)
The little time there was in the first six of her thirty eight year marriage was constantly disrupted by police harassment. Nelson’s political activism required him to go underground to evade arrest before the first Treason Trial, in which he and his comrades were acquitted. For the first two years of their marriage, she was regularly attending the Treason Trial, effectively a single parent to their two infant daughters. After the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, a state of emergency was imposed and Nelson was detained for five months. Despite the acquittal of the Treason Trialists, Mandela was again detained in July 1962, where he was to remain until he was found guilty and narrowly avoided the death penalty, sentenced to life in 1963. This meant that Winnie, who described herself as the “most unmarried of married women”, hardly ever experienced the “normality” of married life.
In the same letter she wrote, “We were hardly a year together when history deprived me of you. I was forced to mature on my own. Your formidable shadow which eclipsed me, left me naked and exposed to the bitter world of a young ‘political widow’. I knew this was a crown of thorns for me but I also knew I said ‘I do’ for better or worse. In marrying you I was marrying the struggle of my people”.
As Nelson Mandela and his comrades were thrown into jail to begin began their life sentences, she was thrust into the role of a living symbol of the liberation struggle. She became the unofficial representative of the leadership on Robben Island prison and in exile. And the Olympian bearer of the torch of resistance and defiance that played a critical role in retying the knot of history between the generations of the 1950s and the 1970s. If anyone demonstrated, when confronted with adversity, the meaning of the Sesotho idiom; “Mma ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bohaleng” (‘A mother holds the knife by the blade’), it was Winnie.
This role was thrust upon her by the callous, vengeful cruelty of a white minority regime enraged by her unbreakable will and defiance. But she embraced it as a duty imposed on her by history, doing so fearlessly, courageously and with complete devotion. Whilst Nelson was doing hard labour in the lime quarry on Robben Island, Winnie was subjected to relentless persecution.
In 13 years there were only 10 months when she was not under a banning order. Even before Nelson’s trial was over, Winnie was slapped with her first banning order on 28 December 1962. It restricted her movements to the magisterial district of Johannesburg, prohibited her from entering any educational premises and barred her from attending or addressing any meetings or gatherings where more than two people were present. Moreover, the banning order also stipulated that media outlets were no longer permitted to quote anything she said, effectively gagging her voice too.
At this time she became the subject of continuous surveillance and spying by individuals who befriended but were agents of the security police. One such was Gordon Winter, who posed as a journalist and published a book about his exploits. She was subjected to increased police harassment and intimidation, with regular police raids. In 1965, a new more severe banning order followed, barring her from moving anywhere other than her neighbourhood of Orlando West. This made it impossible to keep her job at Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof. The police intimidated prospective employers, denying her even menial job opportunities.
Torture in Solitary Confinement
In 1969 Winnie was to undergo her most harrowing experience of all. The security branch raided her Soweto home at 3am and took her away, after denying her the opportunity to ask her sister to look after her nine and ten year old daughters who were alone with her .
She was detained under the Terrorism Act which allowed for indefinite detention without trial or legal representation. She spent 18 months at Pretoria Central, in a concrete cell located close to the gallows furnished with three thin bug-infested and urine-stained blankets, a plastic water bottle, a mug and a sanitary bucket without a handle. The electric light bulb was left on constantly, robbing her of any sense of night or day.
For 469 days she was kept in solitary confinement, with one interrogation lasting for five consecutive days and nights. She was not allowed to wash or go out for exercise. She was denied sanitary towels and water to wash when she had periods, so the blood caked on her. The “crown of thorns” metaphor she used in her letter to her husband was to prove prophetic. The barbarity of her persecutors descended to the level of making her parade naked in front of male prison officials and police, with only a crown of thorns on her head.
This level of humiliation would have broken a lesser person. But Winnie maintained her pride. “She experienced blackouts, panic attacks, abnormal bleeding, bronchitis, anaemia, a heart condition. She received heart treatment, anti-depressants, and injections for the bleeding. At one stage she expresses fear that she may be becoming addicted to the drugs. Some of her physical conditions were clearly the result of acute psychological stress.
“Yet her defiance never deserted her. A psychiatric interview, with a ‘Dr Morgan’, was arranged. ‘Do you hear God’s voice sometimes telling you to lead your people?’ Winnie was asked. ‘Would you ask Vorster’s wife the same question if the situation was reversed? she shot back.” (Daily Maverick, 03/0418)
To keep her sanity, in a prison where the screams of prisoners being beaten were constant, she made friends with cockroaches. She was released after the police failed to sustain a case. Despite this barbaric treatment, Winnie did not break. This experience merely reaffirmed her political convictions, strengthened her resolve, and deepened her hatred for the regime.
Almost immediately after her release Winnie was served with another, even more stringent banning order. This time it was valid for five years and forbade her from leaving the house between 6pm and 6am. This made it impossible to see her husband on Robben Island, even on the spiteful twice-a-year basis then in force. At the same time the police raids continued relentlessly, sometimes up to four times a day. Her house was routinely burgled, vandalised and even bombed.
In May 1973 Winnie was arrested again, this time for meeting with another banned person, Drum magazine photographer, Peter Magubane. She was sentenced to twelve months at Kroonstad’s women’s prison, but was released after six months. By July 1976 Winnie was back in jail. She had thrown herself fully behind the youth following the eruption of the Soweto Uprising. She helped establish the Black Parents Association, to unite parents, organize legal representation for the detained, and support for families of those killed by the police. Her house became a refuge, a political gathering place, and also a conduit for sending recruits to MK.
Released in December 1976, she was served with another five year banning order the following January. Fearful of the potency of her influence on the youth, the regime this time elected to remove her from Soweto altogether. She was banished into internal exile, in what she described as the “living grave” of her “little Siberia” (Brandfort, in today’s Free State). This dusty town in the middle of nowhere, 350 km to the south west of Johannesburg, was to be her prison of the next eight years.
Banishment to Brandfort
But Winnie was not going to bow her head in the face of this latest act of repression. “When they send me into exile, it’s not me as an individual they are sending. They think that with me they can also ban the political ideas. But that is a historic impossibility… I am of no importance to them as an individual. What I stand for is what they want to banish,” she said.
She set about immediately working on winning over a community who had been subjected to a six months long campaign of intimidation to dissuade them from interacting with this “terrorist” and “communist”. Although required to report to the police station twice daily, she found the time to successfully put pressure on a local white-owned clothing store to allow blacks to try on clothing using the same change rooms as whites. She had demanded to know how black people’s money was different from that of whites.
“We were in the dark about what we needed to do to fight for liberation,” says Selialimo Makhwe, who was 17-year old at the time and now chairperson of the Brandfort ANC Womens League. “After she arrived people became rebellious.” (Sunday Times, 08/04/18)
With the aid of Albertina Sisulu, Lillian Ngoyi and Sally Motlana, she raised resources to establish a local gardening collective, a soup kitchen, a mobile health unit, a day care centre, a vehicle and an organisation for orphans and juvenile delinquents, as well as a sewing club. The crèche and clinic were run from her backyard.
The increased human traffic provided Winnie with the cover to deceive the police, who watched her house from a nearby hill. Using a local woman as a double to maintain the pretence she was in the house, Winnie was able to drive to and from Soweto overnight where she could meet her comrades and continue her political activities.
These political activities, which entailed maintaining contact with the exiled ANC leadership in Lusaka, Zambia, recruiting thousands of recruits to join the ANC’s military wing, was to elevate her to the position of the ANC’s most senior underground MK leader in the country.
Return to Soweto
Removed from Soweto to prevent her from fanning the flames of the youth uprising, Winnie was allowed to return in 1986, in the middle of the countrywide state of emergency the regime had declared. However, despite intensified repression, including occupations of the townships by the army, mass arrests, torture and killings, the limitations of the regime’s power was becoming increasingly evident.
While Winnie was in Brandfort, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched. The UDF spearheaded the campaign to boycott the elections for the Tricameral Parliament – a fake parliament which provided for special chambers for Coloureds and Indians, alongside a white chamber, to break their solidarity with blacks. Around 77% of Coloureds and 80% of Indians stayed away from the polls, dealing the regime a severe blow. Even more ominously for the regime, Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) was launched in December 1985, with over 500 000 members, during the partial state of emergency. The regime conceded to Cosatu’s demand for the scrapping of the pass laws and to declare May Day an official holiday.
Secret talks and armed struggle
In 1986, the ANC’s January 8 instatement declared it, “The Year of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the People’s Army”. It called for the destruction of local councils, and looked forward to ‘the gathering collapse of the apartheid economy’. The government, it said, had lost the strategic initiative and its attempts at reform were collapsing. The slogan for the year, coined by Thabo Mbeki, was, ‘Every patriot a combatant, every combatant a patriot’.
Winnie became even more central to MK’s operations in this period. She coordinated weapons importation and distribution. She was part of the planning of internal MK activities and the identification of strategic infrastructure installations for sabotage. The ANC also launched Operation Vula. This was an underground operation aimed at facilitating the infiltration of MK guerrillas into South Africa and maintaining open communication links between the ANC leaders in exile, at home and in prison. Amongst some of its operatives were Mac Maharaj, Ronnie Kasrils, Pravin Gordhan, Siphiwe Nyanda and Billy Nair.
Yet the ANC had neither the political strategy, programme nor military means to contemplate the overthrow of the regime. However heroic and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice the MK cadres were, as they were to discover when the leadership unilaterally suspended the armed struggle, the strategic role of the armed struggle was as armed propaganda, to bring the regime to the negotiating table. It is precisely at this time that the apartheid regime’s intelligence services, the government and big business took the first steps in secret talks with a willing ANC leadership, in prison and exile that would ultimately lead to the negotiated settlement at Codesa, the formal end of apartheid and one-person-one-vote.
The tactic of the regime was to combine the granting of political concessions as slowly as possible, diluted as much as possible while stepping up repression. “Black-on-black” violence, the dirty tricks, “Black-Ops” operation to vilify, slander and completely discredit Winnie, and the assassination of Chris Hani, with whom she had developed a close collaborative relationship, formed different elements of the regime’s strategy to neuter the ANC and to secure a negotiated settlement on as favorable terms, as possible.
Albeit posthumously, it is fitting that evidence is now emerging that exonerates Winnie from responsibility for Stompie Sepei’s death. Winnie’s criminal record must be expunged posthumously.
The attainment of the right to vote for the black oppressed was an historic victory. It liberated the black majority from chains of national oppression and ended one of the most hated systems of racial discrimination on the planet.
Although Winnie was ostracized by her own party, demonized by the bourgeois in South Africa and internationally, was excluded from the warmth of the immediate after-glow of the democratic victory, it was the masses, far less than the leadership, that made that victory against apartheid possible.
Long before the ANC was officially unbanned, Winnie was its personification under apartheid. It was banned everywhere except wherever she appeared in ANC colours at the head of rallies, marches and funerals of activists. For her role as a figure of hope determination and defiance, she has earned her place in their hearts.
Winnie’s critique of Codesa agreement
But there are two sides to the reality of the Codesa negotiated settlement. It was at one and the same time a triumph of the black majority in the quest for democratic rights to be full citizens in their country, as well as the successful preservation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class. Capitalism had been placed under new management, through the engineering of a transition from white minority rule to majority rule.
Nelson Mandela’s role in the 1950 Defiance Campaign as volunteer-in chief, his declaration during the treason trial that he was prepared, “if need be” to die for freedom, his nearly three decades in prison, his leading role in the establishment of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, his defiant rejection of an offer of release conditional on accepting, in effect, the citizenship of a bantustan – all of these, earned him his place in history.
However, this is overshadowed by the central political role he played in the imposition of the neo-liberal capitalist post-apartheid order. Far more than the allegations of personal infidelity, it was the differences over the approach to the negotiations that sowed the seeds of Mandela and Winnie’s separation and divorce. It was Mandela’s political infidelity to the Freedom Charter rather than her personal infidelity that explains the end of their marriage. So determined was the ANC leadership to clear the path to power to take their turn to eat, that they issued Mandela with an ultimatum: ‘Winnie or the presidency’.
Yet it was Winnie who had seen through the regime’s scheme of manipulating Mandela. After his hospitalization in 1989, they separated him from his fellow prisoners at Pollsmoor, moving him to a fully-furnished house at Victor Verster prison, offering an excited Mandela the privilege of his family moving in with him. Winnie, understanding immediately that the idea was to soften up Mandela ahead of the negotiations, rejected the opportunity to become “glorified prisoners”. In his last discussion with Mandela before his release, head of the Bureau for State Security (BOSS), Neil Barnard, warned Mandela that Winnie was a problem. In his first speech, Barnard advised Mandela that he should not make any reference to the armed struggle, apartheid, or anything from the past. He should simply issue a call to forge the past and to move on.
Under Winnie’s watchful eye at his first speech, after she accompanied him from prison, Mandela stated that the conditions under which the armed struggle had commenced had not yet changed, shocking the establishment. Winnie was able to accompany Mandela on his first visit to the US, only after pressure for the US civil rights movement. Stratcom had ensured she was placed on the US terror watch list. In an interview on the Phil Donahue television show, she stated it was true that she was much angrier than Mandela and trusted the apartheid regime far less. She made it clear that she was watching the negotiations very closely. Should they go wrong, she would be the first to pick up her gun to go back to the bush and fight.
Winnie was to refer scornfully to the negotiated settlement that ensured the continuation of the very servitude Mandela had, in 1956, condemned as colonialism and apartheid. The new agreement was “an agreement between the elite of the oppressors and the elite of the oppressed to get into bed together,” she stated. Winnie went even further and described Mandela as a sell-out and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a farce acting on behalf of Stratcom.
Winnie’s criticism of the direction the ANC had taken was not limited to the negotiated settlement. She sided publicly with the Treatment Action Campaign demanding anti-retrovirals, marching with them during the 2000 World Aids conference wearing a TAC t-shirt. She exposed the arms deal corruption and was the author of the so-called “De Lille Dossier” – the information the then Pan African Congress leader, Patricia De Lille, burnished in parliament, leading to his becoming the first MP to be suspended from parliament.
Her proximity to the Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema, whom she defended at his disciplinary hearing, lends credence to the belief that she played a role in the EFF’s formation. Her public efforts to encourage a reconciliation between the ANC and the EFF is consistent with the efforts she made to prevent a stand-off between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma at the Polokwane conference in 2007, which she feared, rightfully, would precipitate a split.
Alarmed by the crisis in the ANC, which she said only those who are fooling themselves would deny, she stood by those who were persecuted. “For African Democratic Change leader and former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, the loss of Madikizela-Mandela was a very personal blow. ‘When I was facing persecution, she was phoning me on a daily basis,’ she told Timeslive. ‘She actually gave me the strength to go on’” (DM 03/04/2018).
Only socialism can resolve impasse
Dedicated as Winnie was to the plight of the poor, however often she visited informal settlements, however warmly she was welcomed there, and however much she suffered for the post-apartheid dispensation, and continued to suffer under it, she was a radical left nationalist rather than a socialist. Her criticisms of the betrayals of the ANC were accordingly subjective. She could see no further therefore than to fight for unity in the ANC and to be a voice of moral rectitude. Heroic as her radicalism was, its weakness was precisely that it was nationalist. Although she discerned that the main opponent in the negotiations was, in fact, Capital, she had no answers to overcome the problem.
In common with the rest of the leadership, from the radical to the moderate wing, the ultimate objective was not to overthrow the regime, but to negotiate a settlement with it. She returned to Soweto at a time when the struggle against apartheid was on the cusp of reaching insurrectionary levels. Having no developed understanding of socialism, she located herself amongst the youth. She did not understand the centrality of the role of the working class. Despite the South African Communist Party’s “the working class is the motive force of the revolution” rhetoric, they did not point her in the direction of Cosatu when the union confederation was at its most powerful organizationally and most ideologically radical.
While the working class had drawn the conclusion that apartheid and capitalism were “two sides of the same bloody coin”, that “only socialism means freedom”, the SACP captured Cosatu ideologically. It secured the surrender of COSATU’s class independence and therefore political independence, and subordinated it to the capitalist aspirations of the ANC leadership to fight the National Democratic revolution, that is, a democratic non-racial non-sexist capitalism, that would clear the way for the development of a black capitalist class. In the final analysis, unfortunately, that was the logic of Winnie’s position.
Her sympathies for the EFF’s radical rhetoric, understandable as it was, were mistaken. She may have believed that the corruption allegations against Malema were part of the same kind of plot as against her, but this is not true. The EFF may justifiably claim they were her “children”, but operated, at best, with the same illusions as Winnie had in the possibility of a capitalism that could meet the needs of the people. Malema is corrupt and is shamelessly appropriating Winnie’s legacy as a negotiating tool, possibly to secure a way back to the ANC with the aim of not only ensuring himself a cabinet position but also amnesty.
However true it was that the selflessness of the struggle days amongst the best of them had given way to greed, corruption and obsession with self-enrichment, the ANC’s betrayals are rooted in its class character. Herself from the middle class, whose aspirations the ANC was created to fulfill, Winnie was unable to point a way out of the impasse of capitalist society for the working class and the poor.
Even at its most radical, after the ANC had adopted the Freedom Charter, it remained committed to capitalism as Mandela made clear unambiguously in an article in New Age in 1956. By the time the ANC was unbanned, neo-liberalism was the dominant form of capitalism worldwide. The undertakings the ANC had given in the secret talks throughout the 1980s, were translated into ANC government policy at Codesa and adopted before the elections to be implemented after its accession to power. It abandoned the Freedom Charter but moved very rapidly, after a brief flirtation with the Reconstruction and Development Programme to the adoption of the brutal neo-liberal capitalist policy, under the heading Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR).
After nearly a quarter of a century of democracy, the results for the working class and the poor have been catastrophic. South Africa is the most unequal society on the planet; 30 million live in extreme poverty, 15m go to bed hungry every night and unemployment stands at 40%.
All the major parties, the African National Congress, Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, have embraced Winnie and sought to bask in her reflected glory. But, as parties committed to capitalism, they cannot provide a solution to the fundamental problems facing society.
The masses saw in the defeat of apartheid the opportunity not just to end national oppression but to achieve their social emancipation. The bosses saw in the end of apartheid the means to consolidate capitalism and the class subjugation of the working class. The irreconcilable contradictions between the two main classes in society have created an impasse in society. The only way forward is through the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. The task therefore is the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
Winnie approached the struggle liberation of the masses, even within the limitations of the ANC’s programme, with fearlessness, passion and dedication to the end. Not the least of her contributions was to set a living example of the role of woman in the struggle, capable of more than matching that of any man.
As socialists we must draw on that example of the commitment required to overthrow capitalism and bring about the socialist transformation of society.