Last week I saw the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. While it was primarily Nelson Mandela’s story, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela was of course a key player. I admired her strength as a young woman incessantly harassed and detained by apartheid’s brutal police during her husband’s incarceration.
Subjected to frequent arrests under suspicion of terrorism, coupled with torture, in 1969, the apartheid government placed Winnie in solitary confinement charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. Eighteen months later, the twentysomething-year-old mother of two emerged a victor, ever more determined to fight apartheid.
What fuelled her resolve, she declared, was her hatred for the whites, an emotion with which her husband had learned to come to terms. The overarching theme of the film was forgiveness vs hatred and revenge. Mr. Mandela chose the former while his wife went for the latter. Winnie, by the 1980s, a controversial militant activist, had gained large popularity and power from her supporters and her name was closely linked to the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC) whose members purportedly became her bodyguards. The MUFC reportedly unleashed a “reign of terror” in Soweto on those who didn’t toe Mrs. Mandela’s line.
Around the mid-80s, I remember watching with horror coverage on television of a youth “necklaced” in South Africa – a car tire forced around his neck doused with gasoline and set on fire, burning him alive. This became Winnie’s modus operandi, for in 1986, in a speech in Munsieville, Gauteng, she endorsed the practice of “necklacing.” “With our boxes of matches and our necklaces,” she declared, “we shall liberate this country.” By the early 90s, even after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, black on black violence had reached alarming proportions. Winnie’s hatred was out of control.
Nelson Mandela, miraculously, was able to assuage the masses by his non-violence preaching and urging them instead to direct that energy to the ballot box. The world witnessed on international television that incredible day, 27 April 1994, South Africans of all colours turn out en masse forming lines that snaked for miles all across the nation to vote peacefully for the African National Congress with Nelson Mandela as their president.
Mr. Mandela’s axiom is timeless and universal: “No one is born hating another person because the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart that it’s opposite.”