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BIO: Who is Winnie Madikizela Mandela?
Winnie who is a member of the executive committee of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress Winnie Madikizela ranks high in the circles of anti-apartheid activists who refused to submit to white domination from her youthful days.

The famous anti-apartheid figure now with her honorary doctorate from Makerere University in Kampala, has added another powerful paragraph to her biography.

The degree is in recognition of her fight against the system of racial segregation in South Africa.

But Winnie who is a member of the executive committee of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress Winnie Madikizela ranks high in the circles of anti-apartheid activists who refused to submit to white domination from her youthful days.

In fact, one year after her engagement with freedom fighter, and later President, Nelson Mandela in 1958, she took part in a mass protest against pass laws in Johannesburg. Pass laws required non-Europeans to carry identification documents at all times.

At the end of the protest, 1000 ANC women had been taken into police custody, and Winnie was among them. To demonstrate their protest further, they all refused to file for bail and opted to stay 14 days in jail. Winnie was pregnant with her first child Zenani - - who would be followed by Zindziswe.

 

The prison experience further hardened her defiant attitude but also put her on the security grid as a potential preacher of the anti-apartheid message. The late Lilian Ngoyi was the leader of ANC women then, a post-Winnie assumed in 1993 and 1997. 

Prison, confinement and banishment became a part of Winnie after husband Mandela was arrested in 1961 and handed a life sentence in 1962 over treason related charges. Winnie remained vulnerable to aggressive and violent government forces, which she took time learning to navigate. Before Mandela’s arrest and conviction, their marriage was a dramatic one - they would clandestinely meet as Mandela avoided the security network.  

Winnie would often be restricted- like in 1962 when was confined within the frontiers of Johannesburg  - she was not allowed to address any gathering of more than two people.

When allowed to visit Mandela at Robben Island, she would travel over 1400 kilometres from Johannesburg to Robben Island, near Cape Town.

 In 1965, restrictions became even tougher with Winnie was not allowed to move beyond her neighbourhood in Orlando West, Johannesburg. She gave up her job as a social worker and struggled to keep her two daughters in school.  In 1969, she was a victim of preventive arrest and spent 17 months in solitary confinement. When the court granted her freedom, she was immediately handed another ban of five years.

She could not leave home or visit her imprisoned husband. She joined youths and activists to redeem jailed activists. In 1977 she was banished to the remotest village in Freestate for 5 years. The whole of South Africa knew about the woman branded a terrorist by authorities. 

After the banishment Winnie returned to an even more chaotic Johannesburg. 

In 1986 she founded Mandela Union Football Club; the idea was to occupy unemployed youths with recreational activities. The club, later, turned into a thuggish group according to committee findings in 1997. Some club members descended on individuals and beat them up - one of them, Jerry Richardson, was convicted for causing death of James Seipei also known as Stompie Moeketsi in 1989. Stompie was a teenage activist of United Democratic Front - an anti-apartheid organisation that was founded in 1983.

The young Stompie joined the organisation in the mid-80s at the age of 10 - he was arrested and became the youngest political detainee at the age of 11.  Richardson claimed he acted on Winnie’s order because the boy had turned into a police informer. Winnie has since denied any involvement in Stompie’s murder. 

 

However, in 1991, she was convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to the assault of the young Stompie. In 1997, Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, compelled Winnie to apologise for her high-handed actions as an activist, and she said “…  things had gone horribly wrong and she was deeply sorry”. 

Madikilzela has had her fair share of stints in court.

In 2003 she was convicted on 43 counts of fraud and 25 of theft. The charges arose from a funeral insurance that applicants never benefited from after paying millions of rands. She got a three year suspended custodial sentence. 

She was born in 1936 in Mbongweni, Transkei to teacher parents. She went to a local school in Bizana from where she proceeded to study social work at Jan Hofmeyr School in Johannesburg. In 1956 she got a degree in international relations from the University of Witwatersrand. 

 

Narrated by Frank Walusimbi