Listen: Professor Shireen Hassim on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
Earlier this semester, Political Scientist Shireen Hassim gave a lecture on Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Her talk, "Landscape for a Rebel Woman: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Violence and the Intimacies of Gender in South African Politics", was made possible the Cornell Professorship Fund of the Provost’s Office, the Intercultural Center, and the History Department.
No other woman occupies the place in South African politics that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela does, in her life and now in her afterlife. She transcends political parties, generations and ideologies. Yet, it would seem, we all have our preferred version of “Winnie’ – that single name signally the intimacy of the relationships people across the world imagine they have with her, the sense of knowing her, being able to place her not only in the world but in their own lives as either the extension and representation of themselves, their most powerful freedom-loving selves, or as the part of their self that is in fact most unwanted, most shameful. It is almost impossible for South Africans to be neutral in their views on her: she is either an icon of resistance–Mama Winnie–or an unrepentant and violent woman–Lady MacBeth.
This categorical way of reading Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is rooted in political signaling, a short hand, of where the speaker fits into the landscape of South African politics. Both sides have a clear position on the balance of forces between structure and agency: Madikizela-Mandela is morally corrupt, or she is a victim of her circumstances. It is a limited lexicon for a biography–for an attempt to understand a life lived large and publicly, especially I want to argue that to understand the life of Winnie is also to the understand social and political dynamics of South Africa itself, of a life lived within the public landscape of apartheid, as well as within a more intimate landscape of violent relationships between people, and between an illegitimate state and its subjects.
Professor Hassim is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and African Politics at Carleton University. She’s written many books including Women’s Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority (University of Wisconsin Press) and The ANC Women’s League: Sex, Politics, and Gender (Jacana Media). She is currently working a biography about Fatima Meer, the first black woman to occupy an academic post in a white university in South Africa.
Nafisa Sheik: This is a nice, intimate gathering. Hello everyone and thank you very much for coming and I am pleased to welcome you all to this public lecture by eminent scholar and intellectual political scientist, Professor Shireen Hassim to talk to us today about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. I'm just going to say a few words about Shireen first before you get to hear her.
Shireen is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and African Politics at Carleton University and has been since January this year. Prior to this she was Professor of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand for 20 years where she became the first black woman for Professor of Political Science in South Africa. She has written and edited several books, including No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making and Go Home or Die Here: Violence, Xenophobia and the Reinvention of Difference in South Africa.
Her first book, Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority, published by the University of Wisconsin Press won the Victoria Shuck Award from the American Political Science Association. She's also written a book on The ANC Women's League and, very excitingly, eminent is the publication of a new biography that she's written on one of the most fascinating women in South African intellectual and political life, and that is Fatima Meer. So, not quite Winnie Mandela but Fatima Meer was the first black woman to occupy an academic post in a white university in South Africa. She was the first biographer of Nelson Mandela and a political activist over a period of half a century.
Now, more pertinent for us here at Swarthmore is that Fatima Meer was the Cornell visiting professor here in 1984, 1985 and Swarthmore awarded her an honorary doctorate the following year. So Shireen has multiple ties to Swarthmore in some ways. Today Shireen's going to talk to us about activist and struggle icon Winnie Mandela. I have the greatest pleasure to welcome you, Shireen, to Swarthmore. Go ahead.
Shireen Hassim: Thank you very much, Nafisa and thank you all for coming out after a long weekend. And an actually quite an auspicious day for the purposes of this talk in another way, Nafisa, which is that it's exactly a year, Easter Monday, that Winnie Mandela died. So it's a good day to think about the legacy and to think about her life.
Thank you Nafisa for this invitation, which it's nice to finally honor, having been snowed out at the first attempt to come here. And it is very special having been immersed in Fatima Meer's world for so long to actually come here, which is one of the more formative experiences of her life being at Swarthmore. It's from Swarthmore that she want to [inaudible 00:03:14], for example, and there's a little fascinating story attached to that. I'm not going to go into that, but Fatima was Winnie Mandela's best friend so this is yet another tie. The world is very small across time and space.
I want to talk about Winnie, of course, but first I want to locate why it's important to think about Winnie's life. I'm sure that for any of you who've studied South Africa and for Southern Africanists like [inaudible 00:03:50], it's no news to say that South African scholarship's great contribution has been to understand the ways in which race was not simple an epiphenomenon, an identity that we could cast on or off depending on political circumstances and depending on whether you had more or less enlightened leadership.
South African scholarship has also shown how racism was not just a peculiarly South African phenomenon, something that would end with apartheid and then South Africa would join the rest of the world, but rather that race is constitutive of capitalism itself and not just in South Africa. The formulation of the term racial capitalism is a conceptual frame and South Africa really prefigured the scholarship today which shows, so clearly, that apartheid wasn't an aberration in history, but a heightened form of already existing sets of relationships in capitalism, not just in South Africa that made some bodies more exploitable, less human and more disposable than others.
Feminist scholarship in South Africa has also played a role in elaborating these relationships by adding a dimension that is less acknowledged, exploiting the ways in which class, race and gender and sexuality were entangled in processes of mutuality. South Africa feminism, through that very well-known formulation of race, class and gender, or triple oppression, was intersectional long before the term gained currency in scholarship as we know it today.
I want to bring these two strands of scholarship together to look back on the work on racial capitalism and to show how that work sort to understand the relationship between race, class and gender, but in fact what it did was mostly foreground race ... Foreground class, I'm sorry, it mostly foregrounded class, right? So while race and gender were understood as constitutive of class, nevertheless, what really mattered in South Africa scholarship, whether it was done in South Africa or here in the United states, was class organization and the possibilities of a just society emerging were centered on the awareness of black workers of the underlying class interests.
So this is what non-racialism really was trying to do was to show that people had these interests beyond class. Race, or what was called the national question, was of significance in displacing apartheid, but wouldn't actually change the fundamental capitalist configuration of society. I think that was a correct insight. Mostly the South Africa left was worried about the ways in which a post-apartheid resolution might result in a neocolonial black bourgeoisie, which was interested only in creditation and not in the elimination of inequality.
In fact, that's how [inaudible 00:07:25] was first experienced in South Africa scholarship for the arguments he made about the ends to which the fate that might meet Africa would national liberation. Mobilizations of race and gender, I think, were treated with a lot of suspicion as foregrounding identity has been problematic for putting identity over structural conditions. I'm not going to go over the ground of these debates or even we could talk about the extent to which those fears have proved justified. But I want to unravel another seam in this fabric.
What the emphasis on class did, I think, on the spacial location of the factory floor and the mine, on the building of class consciousness and organizational form of unions and political parties. What it did was to give us a scholarship that very rarely sought to understand what it might mean to live in racial capitalism. Of course, there's a social history which best does this. There is a social history that does this, which takes lives, both individual and collective, seriously. The work, for example, incredibly work of Shul Marks and Lilly Moya in Not Either an Experimental Doll, Charles van Onselen on Kas Maine in The Seed is Mine, for example.
These biographies did take us into the interior world of people for whom racial capitalism was not a conceptual framework, but a lived, breathed and complex experience. Something lived, not only in the present, not just in the present, but in a present that was laden with memories. So I'm going to make a case for biographical studies as a mold through which we are able to reach an understanding of racial capitalism as a sight, not only of gendered and racialized exploitation, but also as a sight of fear, displacement and anxiety with consequences in the political sphere.
So, in a way, this is to understand racial capitalism from the inside out and to understand, through the life of Winnie Mandela, one very much storied life, what these intersections between race, class and gender actually look like in practice. Hers is a life with which, I think, most of us are familiar because no other women occupies the place in South Africa politics that Winnie Mandela does in her life and now in her afterlife.
She transcends ... This is a picture that I think everybody's familiar with of Winnie and Nelson Mandela walking out of the jail after his 27 years in prison. Winnie transcends political parties, she transcends generations and classes and ideologies. There would seem, in the world, we all have our preferred version of Winnie. The single name, Winnie, itself signifying, I think, the intimacy of the relationship that people across the world imagine that they have with her. The sense of knowing her, being able to place her, not only in the world but in their own lives as either an extension or a representation of themselves, right? Their most powerful, freedom-loving selves or as a part of their self that is most unwanted and most shameful.
It's almost impossible for South Africans to be neutral in their views of her. She is either an icon of resistance, Mamma Winnie, or she's an unrepentant and violent woman, Lady Macbeth. This categorical way of reading Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, I think, is rooted in political signaling, a shorthand of where the speaker fits into the landscape of South African politics.
And however you read her, I think these versions take a very clear stand on the balance of forces between structure and agency. She's either morally corrupt or she's a victim of her circumstances. It's a limited lexicon for a biography, for an attempt to understand the life that was lived large and lived publicly. But it's also a limited lexicon for understanding the ways in which the life of Winnie, to understand that life, that one life, is also to understand the political and social dynamics of South Africa itself, of a life lived within this public landscape of apartheid and a more intimate landscape of violent relationships between people and between an illegitimate state and its subjects.
So what I want to do today is to offer three distinct, and I hope, new ways of reading her life. Firstly, I want to make a case for regarding her as produced by the landscape of apartheid, which deployed forms of personalized violence in a systematic fashion against her. While this doesn't absolve her of her agency at all, it does shape, I think, the repertoires of agency that were available, both politically and psychically to Winnie Mandela.
The second point I want to make is that her political actions were embedded in the ANC's gendered politics. They weren't an aberration or an unfortunate mis-step in its history, rather the role that was created for her within the ANC was confining for the woman who saw herself as more than the symbolic figure of African Nationalism. And that in order to exert and exercise the authority that she developed over time, she actually had to step outside to the ANC's lines of authority.
And then the third thing I want to argue is that she, Winnie Mandela, specifically carried the spirit and language of Africanism and black consciousness in the ANC, even when the movement itself was moving towards a very different kind of language, the language of non-racialism, which tried to de-center identity in favor of some notion of exclusivity. That strand of Africanism, I think, comes from her life in rural Transkei and I think that is an influence that was very strong throughout her political career.
So in both her personal and her political life, in the landscape of the 20th century, I want to trace how violence, both the physical brutality of apartheid and the sense of psychic threat that she experienced to her own life, is a recurring feature and colors her political and tactical choices.
So that's broadly what I'm going to try and give in a potted summary from now. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was born in a village near Bizana in Pondoland, September 1936. She thought her birth was a disappointment to her family because she was yet another girl child. And she said her welcome into the family was miserly. Her father, Columbus Madikizela, taught history at a small school that he ran in the village. Her mother, Gertrude, taught science in the same school and both of them had profound influences on her.
Columbus' schooling shaped Winnie's early political outlook. She was taught about injustice. She was taught that the only way out of injustice was to fight it. She learned from her father, she says, that when you are a child it is important to wake the anger in you so that it determines the political consciousness of the black man. She was reading backwards into her history, of course, but you can see how she's constructing this early period as one which was the seeds of her heroism that were her narrative of heroism.
Her life in a rural area, with all its entrenched gender roles, was a difficult one. On the one hand she had a lot of responsibilities looking after her siblings. As an ... not the eldest but an elder sister, all the girls had to look after the children. On the other she, from a young age, found being a girl constraining. The harshness of family life, for her, is very striking in all her accounts. She describes her mother, Gertrude, who was a Methodist, she describes Gertrude as a religions fanatic who controlled every aspect of the children's lives, locking them in a room and forcing them to pray aloud. Using physical discipline, beating her to instill a sense of spiritual well-being.
Her mother died giving birth to a much desired son, a second brother, and it cut short Winnie's childhood. She was nine. She left school for six months to work in the fields, to go over the daily chores of the household. Her aunts were, she says, ruthless and hard and required her to work. She was expected to toughen up. And her grandmother, who she called [foreign 00:17:32], Elder One, used the opportunity to displace Gertrude, her mother, from the family pantheon, as it were.
Gertrude is an interesting figure. Winnie's mother was from a family that was modern, that was Christian, that was Westernized, part of what was known as [inaudible 00:17:55]. She was also reputed to have white ancestry. When she died, her mother-in-law's purest views on race appear to have had full reign. According to Winnie, her grandmother genuinely hated Europeans because she remembered that the family that she had once come from, a settled, relatively well-off family, in Pondoland had been dispossess of their land. This was an area that had been colonized by the British in 1878, annexed to the Cape Colony in 1894, which is less than half a century before Winnie was born.
Memories of dispossession were still fresh for her grandmother and were passed on to her. [foreign 00:18:44], the grandmother's trading post, according to family legend had been taken from them by white traders. She learned about the war of colonization. The wars, of course, are people against the British, and she saw herself at a very young age as being someone who would pick up the spear. They were nine [foreign 00:19:07] wars. She said they failed in those wars and one of them, who will start from where those [foreign 00:19:15] lived often get my land back.
That was in 1985 and this dispossession and repossession remained part of her lexicon throughout her political career. As with many members of the ANC who came from the Eastern Cape, she also understood that urban struggles were not the only space of resistance, that rural struggles really did matter. And so the emphasis on the industrial working class did not ring for her powerfully as the space of politics. As she put it, "The white makes a mistake thinking the tribal black is subservient and docile."
She took up a place to study after she finished her schooling at the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work in Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela happened to be a patron. She arrived in the big city, shy and withdrawn, according to her. I don't quite believe that because I have difficulty, having read Winnie's many accounts of her childhood, thinking of her as shy and withdrawn.
But she did burst out of her shell very quickly, she says. She dressed in the latest fashion, she cut pictures out of newspaper adverts and send them home to her sister and they sewed them up into beautiful clothes. She was a modern girl, to use Lynn Thomas's phrase. She was a modern girl making her way in the city. And she very quickly learned the power of dress. Not just the fashion but the use of dress as a political tool was very important to Winnie. She was invited to dinner ... She tells a story of being invited to dinner to meet some visiting American professors. They wanted to see a typical tribal girl and she was asked to show up wearing her [foreign 00:21:21] clothing, and she didn't. She wore one of her fashionable, modern girl outfits and she said, "They took one look at me and showed their disappointment. They wanted to see a real native to photograph and to take home."
It's an interesting incident because it points to the insightfulness of Winnie, about what dress could signify to the ways in which it could be use to put her on parade, as it were. Right? And to the effective ways in which you would later use traditional dress as a form of challenge to white power. After the social work training in Johannesburg she had to go and do an intern trip and so she returned to her home village and there she met tribal political leaders, like George Matanzima, who was an ANC member at this stage. Dr. [inaudible 00:22:13] was a member of the PAC.
And because she was working with the women she had to attend the tribal councils. So when she attended the tribal councils she began to develop a sense of the unfairness of being told to shut up and listen. She was not one for shutting up and listening, even as a young girl. She also, in these visits, learned that because she was a young and beautiful girl there was a plan by the local chief to abduct her and marry her off to his son, so she fled back to Johannesburg.
Well, she says a lot about the injustices of abduction of young girls as a mode to marrying in her autobiographical essays. She went back to Johannesburg and this is when she really met Nelson Mandela. By this stage she certainly was not a naïve young girl with no idea of the larger world. Of course, the world is used to thinking of that moment when she met Nelson Mandela as the moment of her political awakening, rather than any of these preceding experiences.
For all of Nelson Mandela's biographers, other than Tom Lodge, she was a rural naïve whose beauty snared the most eligible bachelor in the country. She was surely to young and too beautiful to have a serious political idea and, in fact, she proved to be a disappointment to his stature. That is the narrative that is told about her.
But for Winnie, her marriage to Nelson Mandela was as much a political partnership as it was an intimate relationship. She was and, in fact, already incipiently building a political career of her own, but there's no doubt that marrying the leading light in the ANC changed that trajectory considerably, propelling her into the glare of the media.
In the first year of their marriage Nelson was on trial in Pretoria. She barely saw him. She was pregnant almost immediately after the marriage, but she was politically active throughout this time as a member of the Orlando West branch of the ANC women's league. She was arrested. She was taken into prison in Marshall Square. She almost lost her baby as a result of this imprisonment but she was, by this stage, firmly and fully committed to the National Liberation Movement and began to develop qualities that became characteristic of her leadership. An impactic leader, not a tactician or theorist and an effective and charismatic speaker.
Throughout this period in the 60s Nelson Mandela became, more and more, a political symbol of resistance, deliberately constructed as such by various movements against apartheid. Of course, his own leadership qualities facilitated his availability and his desirability as a heroic symbol, but there personalization of resistance in the figure of Mandela was also a political strategy aimed at building an international anti-apartheid solidarity movement. And to do that his image was built as the heroic figure of noble opposition, the Nationalist Father of the nation, the leader in who's name resisters could act.
He was a political Messiah whose incarceration itself signified the imprisonment of all black people in the repressive system and whose liberation would come to symbolize the moment of freedom. Nelson and Winnie became a political trope, the recurring image of a stable center in a political vortex. Together they represented the naturalized and idealized modern heterosexual patriarchal family. Their story was portrayed as one that was tragically romantic. Their separation by incarceration became a metaphor for the separation through forced migration of many families in South Africa.
Winnie Mandela's role in this marriage was defined for her. She was to be the helpmate of the political leader. She was to be the mother of the nation, the supporter of men, the wise counsel to the youth, the keeper of the home, patiently waiting, the home to which her husband would eventually return. She was expected to be both brave and vulnerable, to parrot the line as it was given to her by the political organization and to be the epitome of African womanhood and apartheid.
It's a role that she initially accepted, actually, even though she was not fully happy with the role of the wife. Very early on in her communication with Fatima Meer, actually, she says to Fatima that she found him overpowering, she said. "In the little time I spent with him I discovered only too soon how quickly I would lose my identity because of his overpowering personality."
You just fizzled into being his appendage with no name and no individuality except Mandela's. She got tired of being seen as the spokesperson for the ANC, as if she had no ideas of her own. She said to Fatima Meer, "Certainly I wasn't speaking for myself anymore. If I uttered a word it was Nelson Mandela's wife says ..." Now, this was also a resource for her because she soon learned that a sense of power could come from having a voice as the wife of Nelson and could be used to build her own political ideas. And she continued to be politically active despite various attempts by the state to stop her.
In 62 she, herself, was banned for the first time, so she's among the earliest of the people to be banned. A state was not seeing her as an innocent, patient wife waiting for Nelson. By 1985 she had spent close to 20 years under banning orders. This was a way of stripping her of public speech, but she defied the state either directly by addressing various public gatherings, or by symbolic acts of defiance, such as these. Doesn't look like such an act of defiance but actually, whenever she could, she wore traditional dress and that was because the state forbade her from attending Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial in traditional dress and she decided she was going to show up outside the court in full regalia and she used this for formative politic to great effect, her resistance continually puncturing the more ludicrous aspects of state control.
This powerful apartheid state seeking to tell her what clothing she had to wear is absurd when you think about it. Right? And she understood that these little acts of defiance, these everyday acts of resistance acted as moral boosters for black people and she knew how to work every gap in the system to make visible its absurdity, and she was to suffer for this because she goaded the state. The state acted very severely against her. She was arrested in 1969, six months later, and she was kept under detention. She was charged under the suppression of communism act for planning sabotage, which she probably was doing.
For the whole term that the charges were made and then withdrawn and then dismissed she was held in solitary confinement for nine months. Her sense that violence was necessarily to fight the state began to sharpen during this period. And it's important, I think, to just pause for a moment to consider the materiality of apartheid state power, of violent state power in racial capitalism, because this is really what it entailed.
"I was tortured," She says, "Like everybody else, with electrical machines, personally interrogated for seven days and seven nights continuously. That imprisonment of 18 months in solitary confinement actually changed me in the sense that I knew that even if it was my mother who walked through that door, and she was on the other side of me politically, I knew I could pull a trigger. We were so brutalized by that experience that I believed then in the language of violence as the only way to deal with, to fight apartheid. It was the same violence they were unleashing against us. That is what that brutality does." She said.
And she was, in fact, interrogated by one of the most notorious policeman, Colonel Swanepoel, who was suspected of having killed several detainees. During this period she considered suicide, she embarked on a hunger strike, she was hospitalized and her body itself became the terrain of a struggle, the state seeking to control her by physical and mental torture and she herself trying to use her body to fight back. She profoundly changed after this period of torture.
By her own account she emerged with her feelings blunted and with an almost complete absence of fear. Within a few years of this imprisonment [inaudible 00:32:24] itself was to change the landscape of politics and Winnie, living in the townships, was there for that uprising and it mattered in her political framing of herself. It mattered to her that she was there and Nelson was not. Right? That she was among the people.
She worked with the other students, together with Fatima Meer. They formed the Black Women's Federation, very short-lived. But this period after 76 is one where she really develops this populous leadership in which she was able to show that she could connect with people in times of distress. She attended funerals, she counseled families, she was far from being a bystander. She was not a passive wife, patiently waiting for her husband's release, but instead she was crafting this intimate form of political leadership in which she drew on gender as a political resource. She drew on the affect of qualities that went along with the idea of the mother of the nation to form political communities and to provide a mold of entry, as it were, into the lives of people in the township. She embraced being mother and wife of a political leader and fashioned it into a platform from which she then challenged the apartheid state at its core, goading it into revealing its cruelties.
As a result of which the state continued to try and silence her. Her home was invaded, searched, she was arrested several times and then in an act of extreme cruelty in 1977, she was served with a banishment order to a place in the free state called Brandfort, a place she had never heard of, nor had she ever visited. It was a horrendous uprooting from her family and community in Soweto and a form of exile that she described as my little Siberia.
She was there for seven years and then in 1985, when she was on a visit to Johannesburg, extensively to see doctors, her Brandfort house was burnt down and she simply decided she was never going back, the state could do what it wished. She was not going back. So she settled again in Soweto and this becomes the next formative period because her house in Soweto now was to become, not just her residence, but the base for an extended network of activists outside of the formal structures of the ANC.
So it's a really important decade, the 1980s. She consolidated an independent position in politics, partly, actually, under the guise of the Release Mandela Campaign. She was given the job of keeping the Mandela name in the public eye, and so she did. But it wasn't just Nelson Mandela's name that she was keeping in the public eye, but her own. Right? But the official leadership of the ANC either in jail or in exile, it's a period of states of emergency, Winnie Mandela became very much part of an internal struggle, living in Orlando, close to the growing [inaudible 00:35:55], close to the emergence of new youth formations and close to the effects of state violence in the sense that she went to every single funeral she could go to in the township. Right? She put herself there with the people.
At the center, I would say, this played a very complicated choices being made by young activists to accelerate the opposition to apartheid by direct and sometimes violent action. She, herself, was not easier controlled or contained. She stool aloof from the official positions of the ANC. She stood aloof from the United Democratic Front, which was emerging as the internal Democratic opposition. She developed her own network of loyal supporters and bodyguards, the Mandela United Football Club, which unlike the Soweto Youth Congress, or the Congress of South Africa Students, other youth formations, which were accountable in some ways to the ANC and the UDF. The Mandela United Football Club is accountable only to Winnie Mandela.
By the mid 1980s, amid two states of emergency and the Civil War, she really began to openly support direct violent action in several speeches that you are probably all aware of, made in the townships of South Africa in which she justified violence as an ethical action. The most well-known of these is her support for necklacing, a particularly brutal form of punishment in which a burning tire is put around the necks, not of the police, not of the whit oppressors, but around the necks of people who are suspected of being informers for the state or people who had crossed a picket or a boycott line.
It was not a method supported by the ANC, who were not opposed to using violent methods, of course. They had an underground army. But they limited the use of violence to police and military targets and officially, at least, assured violence against civilians and especially violence against black people. But, the official positions of the ANC were not as powerful on the ground in the townships. Arbitrary and violent attacks on activists by the state, including imprisonment without trial, torture and murder, were met with increasing the violent responses by political activists. And the state itself, in some cases, orchestrated that violence through so-called third forces.
So her home in Orlando, I think, must be seen in this context. There's a space that's supplanted other homes. It was not home in the idealized sense of a space of sanctity from the world, for all of Winnie's adult life her home been violated, after all, by the security forces of apartheid. And those intrusions continued throughout the apartheid era, terrorizing Winnie and her daughters, Zenani and Zindziwa. For all of the 1970s and 1980s she was under constant surveillance by the police, she had no sense of privacy or no sense of safety under this name, home. Right?
In fact, she said, "My house was an extension of the police station." Subject to such constant attack, violence became an ingrained feature of Winnie's life. It's not a conceptual stretch to consider how it shaped her willingness to use violent methods herself. Almost certainly, with her knowledge, four teenagers were abducted from the Methodist [inaudible 00:39:56] in Soweto. One of them, Stompie Sepei, was beaten to death. Ultimately the allegations against Winnie for aiding the abduction, suspicions of her direct involvement in the beating of Stompie and her involvement in the death of a beloved Soweto doctor, Abu Baker Asvat, and then much later the public affair she had. The airing of her affair with a young activist lawyer was to form the basis of the divorce between Nelson and Winnie. I'm now skipping way ahead.
But in the period after the end of apartheid another kind of leadership emerges. A form of leadership emerges for Winnie. She testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about these events, the death of Stompie and Abu Baker Asvat and she used that opportunity to bear testimony to the violence wrought on black people by the apartheid state. She, in the TRC, refused any possible moral equivalence between apartheid's crimes and the actions at the National Liberation Movement. She refused to be the body on whom exculpation of the whole ANC was achieved.
Instead she was very attune to the ways in which the TRC already, in the late 1990s, was being seen as a mode of whitewashing. A process that required confession and forgiveness of black people, but very little in the way of accountability or reciprocity from white people. She refused to tell her story in the scripted form of the TRC. She refused to speak in the terms demanded by the TRC, which is you tell the whole truth and then you won't be charged. She simply refused to engage on those terms.
And in fact, she, more than any other acter in the TRC, rendered the entire foundation of the TRC and by extension the Liberal Democratic state unstable. In fact, she succeeded in making the TRC itself the perpetrator of abuse, one in a long line of police informers, torturers, deceiving lovers and lawyers who were sent to discipline her. But a remarkable feet of testimony that is online, you can go and watch it.
So, in doing that, she became something new. She reinvented herself in a way as a new voice for the time, as the sentinel now for the radicals who see in the transition to democracy, a defeat of the revolution, not its victory, right up to her death on Easter Monday a year ago. She felt that her agency as a committed [inaudible 00:43:04] was always called into question. She complained, rightly ... partially rightly and partially wrongly, actually, that she had no status within the leadership collective until her husband was released from prison. That under his direction only, and only under his direction, she was was given positions in the ANC and the new government. Which is partially right, of course, but she's partially wrong because she, herself, never played within the rules of the organization. Right?
She felt mis-recognized, she felt reduced almost in the same way that she experienced solitary confinement. She experienced a period after Nelson was released from prison as a period in which she was reduced to a nothing, in her words. It is a powerful narrative for Winnie, but it is also a powerful narrative for a lot of people in the country who are disaffected with the direction that the ANC took after 1994. But it gave Winnie Madikizela-Mandela a cache that stems from a position which she articulated so clearly at the height of South Africa's romance with the new democracy, that the past could not be easily contained and certainly not erased.
Very few people played outside the rules of the game of celebrating South African democracy in the late 1990s. It took a very strong figure, a maverick perhaps, to point to its tensions. Madikizela-Mandela stood fairly or not, we can debate that, for the virtues of a community that had been violently treated by apartheid and colonialism. She stood for remember the crimes that, for many like her, are not considered healable. And for whom justice is cast in terms other than those offered by the TRC and the representative politics of the post-apartheid state.
She articulated a fierce swath of the demands made by young disaffected people for whom the post-apartheid era has been a succession of disappointments. I think, though, and if I'd had more time I could show this more clearly, but a closer reading of the story I'm telling you can not offer hope for an alternative to the crafting of the key elements of the South Africa democracy as it was articulated in the 1980s. I don't think the options she offers are a viable strategy or a viable alternative to the capacious hope that is in the South African constitution.
There may be more continuities than differences, I think, in the place that she occupies and the symbolic politics of anti-apartheid nationalism and post-apartheid radicalism in the sense that both turn far too readily in my view to violence as the alternative to the much more difficult path, I think of crafting inclusive, just communities.
To return to what we might learn from lives, from biographies, what can it change about what we know and how we know it? I think the first thing that looking closely at one person's life does, and I hope that I have done a little bit, is to humanize a system. To see it first and foremost from the perspective of the people living in it, and not only from its structural features. To know it in this way, to know it in the way that you can put a name to being tortured, a name to being banished, a name to being silenced, is to see the embodiment of violence, to see the direct and brutal assault of the state on black people who stood up to its power. And how much more silent was the violence against those who simply acquiesced. And it enables us to see, concretely I think, the interplay between structural violence and personalized violence.
The second thing I was hoping the insight I hope we can gain from looking at lives is that it enables us to understand that the individual life lived in one period of time was never just the story of one life, but it carries legacies, memories, responsibilities of past injustices. And to use a cliché, if history is indeed the struggle of memory against forgetting, what Winnie reminds us is the power of memory across generations of injustice and dispossession and that is how memory then becomes the politics of the present.