History is littered with coincidences that ordinarily mean nothing at first glance. We sometimes find meaning to these coincidences only when we actively search for connecting substance.
It is the same thing that could be said about the month of September. In our country’s political calendar this month is recorded is the Heritage Month in which we celebrate and reflect on our diverse past – in search of the essence of our identity as a people. In so doing we promote the symbols of our culture that define the best of our values as we attempt to build a truly non-racial, non-sexist and people-centred democratic society.
It was also by historical coincidence that on 26 September 1936 in the remote village of eMbhongweni, eMbizana, Nomzamo Winfred Madikizela was born. Although she was born into a family of learned parents, it is not difficult to think that neither could they have thought that they had given birth to a child who would become one of the many shining and crucial symbols of South Africa’s political heritage.
Comrade Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the mother of our nation, represented defiance and courage against repression at moments of our struggle in which the power of the Apartheid regime appeared almost unbreakable. Her presence amongst the people of South Africa in our townships provided the glimmer of hope and inspiration that was important in keeping up the spirit of resistance and revolutionary protest. She remained this symbol of hope despite the attempts by the regime to break her spirit through solitary confinement away from her children and people, hoping to destroy any sense of commitment to the plight of the nation. None of this had the desired effect.
In the African National Congress’s revolutionary language and political metaphors we came to normalise the reference to women as Imbokodo- rocks- in honor of the courageous women of 1956 who marched to the doors of the Union Buildings in protest of the inhumane pass laws. These are women who defied the odds of aggression from the police in order to make their contribution to justice and freedom in our land.
It is this spirit of justice and freedom that remain a driving force behind the courage and resilience of comrade Winnie. She lived and continues to live her life as a testimony to the centrality of women to the struggle for justice and development throughout the history of humanity. This has always been her contribution against entrenched attitudes of backwardness that relegates women to secondary citizens of the world.
She affirmed her autonomy and political agency outside of the magnanimous shadow of her husband, the towering struggle icon President Nelson Mandela. By so doing she proved and taught to many doubting minds that women are legitimate political actors with their own moral motivations and not appendages to their husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends and colleagues.
It is in this act of defying the forces of Apartheid oppression that comrade Winnie Mandela together with other women, in the ANC and the entire liberation movement, were also producing values that must underpin a new society.
The distinctive contribution of women like comrade Winnie to the struggle against colonial oppression also served as an act of defying the entrenched culture of sexism and patriarchy even in revolutionary political movements.
It was a constant art of teaching male revolutionaries and younger generations that human agency resides in all of us regardless of gender and sex.
As we continue to deepen the National Democratic Revolution with its objectives of creating a new society driven by non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy; we have to look into the experiences of the past.
These experiences constitute the political heritage that we have to seek progressive values from; and use those to build a social consciousness that binds all of us to strive for an equitable society.
It is the lives of people like comrade Winnie Mandela, that were built in struggle, which must be looked into as living heritage from which lessons about the present and future can be extracted.
It is these lives that remain instructive symbols of hope that the human spirit can learn great lessons from courageous women. The struggle against patriarchy in all its manifestations- in domestic violence, rape, street harassment and catcalling- requires a resilient effort from all of us as women. We need to organize ourselves seriously as a clear voice to articulate the sort of anti-patriarchal social relations we want to enforce on this society. In her 80 years of life Comrade Winnie remains a great symbol of the values that we need to look up to in order to achieve greater strides against this.
Happy and Revolutionary Birthday Comrade Winnie Madikizela Mandela, MaMsuthu, Mother of the Nation. Nwele olude ntombi yama Ngutyana.
CDE BALEKA MBETE IS THE NATIONAL CHAIRPERSON OF THE ANC