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Remembering Winnie Mandela: A Heroic Civil Rights Campaigner Relegated Unceremoniously to the Margins of History

By       Message Monish Chatterjee       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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I am filled with much sadness at the news of the passing of Winnie Mandela (something I only learnt four days later via Counterpunch- mainly because I have long stopped reading news headlines from commercial propaganda sources, which is fairly every outlet out there- PBS and NPR are no exceptions) on April 2nd.

The world seems to have forgotten this brave and magnificent woman. How simple this orchestrated oblivion was! Once Nelson Mandela became free- all attention shifted to him, and Winnie's multi-decade campaign for, and in honor of Nelson, and Nelson's


Winnie and Nelson as newlyweds
(Image by The Guardian)
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noble cause was soon forgotten. I always had intense admiration for the lone fighter in Winnie, bravely continuing her campaigns against the brutality of apartheid, and keeping her imprisoned husband's cause alive through excruciatingly lonesome decades. Throughout the 1980s and in fact much longer, she kept alive the conflagration of the anti-apartheid mass movement, once led by her much more renowned husband. I believe her task was in fact much harder than Nelson's, especially with the latter being behind prison walls, from whence his role was much more symbolic, and whose potency Winnie helped maintain at a high level. She was literally in the trenches, year after year, campaigning, lecturing, inspiring thousands. In this manner, she even made powerful campaigners of their daughters, Zindzi in particular, whose speeches at public anti-apartheid events I would find most impressive and moving.

Therefore- after NM's release- it was soon a great mystery to me that the magnificent Winnie was not to be seen in any of the celebratory events, and much less any influential position in the new, post-apartheid government. She simply vanished from the radar screen- a once widely visible symbol of a people's struggle, suddenly gone from the public space. For a long time, this simply made no sense to me. Thereafter, learning that NM and Winnie had separated, and later that NM had re-married, only increased my dismay.


Winnie at the height of her activism
(Image by Pakistan Today)
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I questioned inside my mind the very purpose that one as valiant and justice-minded as NM would barely even speak of Winnie, to whom in my mind he definitely owed much of the world public memory of the apartheid and his years on Robben Island. Years ago- I recall reading My Soul Went with Him- Winnie's "soulful" memorializing of NM's imprisonment. And here she was- totally tossed to the wayside- for whatever reason- entirely unknown to me.


Winnie in African finery
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I have subsequently come to know about Winnie's trials for apparent political misuse and abuse- and I have frequently felt: how ironic! So many brutal, racist political operatives and leaders under the draconian regimes received great mercy under the magnanimous "Peace and Reconciliation" plan- and here was a woman who had fought so nobly to bring an end to the merciless brutality of apartheid- there was no room for mercy, much less gratitude, towards her. Some might point to more egregious aspects of her "crime." However, I do not see them necessarily add up to the levels of those exonerated under "Truth and Reconciliation. I was even more dismayed while watching portions of the so-called trial of a sullied woman who had given so much to a people's long struggle for freedom, that another individual I have long admired- Bishop Desmond Tutu, actually use unusually stern words towards Winnie while sitting on the inquiry panel. To me, it was a most tragic and disheartening spectacle. I do not know the truth behind such absence of gratitude on the part of our world and its lop-sided justice- but I shall never forget this seeming ingratitude, and never forget the Winnie I have held up as an amazing woman whose courage and sacrifices are an example to all oppressed people. I came to learn of Winnie's departure from this blighted world via a column in the April 6th Counterpunch which remembers Winnie (however, it stops short of accolades which I feel should have been bestowed upon her). This truly is a grossly unbalanced world.

Winnie: This one admirer from Bengal will never forget you!

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(Article changed on April 8, 2018 at 20:47)

 

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Monish R. Chatterjee received the B.Tech. (Hons) degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from I.I.T., Kharagpur, India, in 1979, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Iowa, (more...)
 

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