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Speech: Fortuin - Memorial Address for Ma Winnie

Whilst the Architects of Apartheid never faced their Nuremberg - Winnie Mandela

Memorial Address for Ma Winnie – St Peter's Church, Willis Street, Wellington (11/4/2018)
I appreciate it is hard to fully grasp the complexed issues of Apartheid from afar in the previous century. Having smelt its breath of daily degradation in the 1950s, sixties, seventies and eighties; having felt its wrath of AK47s in my face, having had our land confiscated and resettled to the otherside of the river and having lived Apartheid in all its ugliness I come this evening to pay tribute to the Inspirational ICON of our struggle for Freedom and Dignity.

I am not here to minimise or glossover any of Ma Winnie’s shortcomings which like many of us she had a few. But in a narrative where we scold and scorn the slaves for their audacity to rise up and free themselves from the yoke of oppression but we build memorials to the depraved slave-owners, I am hoping you would walk with me on Ma Winnie’s freedom road over the next few minutes.

Set to defy history and restore African dignity Nomzamo (Xhosa meaning - to be challenged with trials) Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela was born 26 September 1936 on the southern tip of Africa governed by one of the most evil forms of dehumanization where blacks were officially lesser human beings to be educated only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. The odds of survival never mind Iconic Status was minimal but destiny had other plans.

Mama Winnie Graduated top of her class with a social work degree in 1955 and thankfully turned down a USA scholarship to become the first black medical social worker at Baragwanath Hospital. In 1958 she married a upperty black laywer and made Nelson Mandela famous. There would not be time for marital bliss as Mandela (the underground pimpernel) became the founder and commander in chief of the Spear of the Nation, uMkhonto we Sizwe as the people’s response to the Sharpville Massacre of 69 deaths, including 29 children.

Thus began the journey from social worker to mother of the nation. She never married a man, she married a liberation struggle. She raised 2 girls as a solo mum for over 30 years. The ruthless security thugs kept coming for her in the little house in Orlando in the wee hours of the night. They kept kicking down her door, harrassing and abusing her and leaving two toddlers to fend for themselves. Then they jailed her for 491 days, most spent in solitary confinement where she was humiliated and brutalised. In her book she says “I was soaked in my own menstrual blood as they denied me sanitary towels during the days and nights of torture”.

“I no longer have the emotion of fear. There is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t known.”

Then they came and forcefully dumped her and and the young Zinzi in Brandfort where she was banished to for 10 years. The isolation, the brutality, the banishment and the constant harrassing abuse would have seen many a human deny their noble cause, like the Apostle Peter after which this cathedral is named Ma Winnie could have uttered, I denounce the freedom struggle, but she remained true to the end. She stood Unbowed, Defiant and determined. She turned her banishment settlement of Brandfort into a beacon of hope and community of resilience with her community clinic and vegie garden. And after almost 10 years in banishment, The Apartheid bosses cringed when what should have been a broken pathetic human being returned to Soweto as the defiant warrior who would become the ICON of the liberation struggle, the mother of the nation.

She brought soup and hope to the masses living in their dungeons of dispair called squatter camps throughout the country wearing her kapallings (jandals) or those famous designer high heels. She engaged with the vulnerable and the marginalised with compassion, beauty and style. The enemy felt her wrath and anger. She fought with her bare hands and everything else she had. And as she confessed to arch bishop desmond Tutu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings – “sometimes things went horribly wrong, in the heat of the battle”.

That’s what Struggle Leaders do – They front up. Unlike the architechts of Apartheid who never fronted and were never brought to task......They walked the streets with impunity.

Let’s not judge the ICON of our liberation struggle from the arrogant comforts of privilege without having walked a mile in Ma Winnie’s shoes. Instead take a leaf out of the book of the Patron Saint of our Struggle, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, who in his tribute said: “Her courageous defiance was deeply inspirational to me, and to generations of activists.” The Arch who because of Ma Winnie’s banning order was not allowed to enter her house but shared Holy Communion with her in his car instead, knows that without Ma Winnie there would be NO Nobel Peace prize for himself or Nelson Mandela. The Arch knows that Mandela who had previously rejected Botha’s conditional freedom offer until his people were free had Ma Winnie to thank for creating the climate for change.

The evil masters of Aprtheid did not flaccidly lie down and meekly hand over power. They banned the opposition, they banished the Winnies, they murdered the Bikos and the Cradock 4, they incarcerated the Sobukwes and Mandelas and they tortured and brutalised every thing in their path with all the force of the state. What they never counted on was an elegantly stylish Totara Tree standing tall in the garden of Apartheid; providing shelter and refuse to the multitudes that were to weary to dream. This Icon of our Freedom Struggle stood unbowed, and stared down the beast – she shook and trampled its foundations until the walls came tumbling down and the cries of “Free at Last” were ushered in.

Her courage, her fortitude, her pain and her supreme sacrifice is beyond the capacity of any of us to fully comprehend...she caught the blade meant for us her children...She is the ICON of our freedom struggle...she is the mother of our nation.

And whilst my warrant signed by Madiba will always have pride of place on my lounge wall; the scars of Ma Winnie’s painful long freedom walk will forever have a special place in my heart.

Ka whawhai tonu mātou; A luta continua; the struggle continues.

Hopefully you and I will never again turn a convenient blind eye to discrimination and injustice.
Hamba Kahle mama Winnie

Gregory Fortuin

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