Tag Archives: Winnie Mandela

Arrest of Steve Bantu Biko: beginning of the end and martyrdom of a legacy


In the early hours of the 18th of August 1977, about an hour away from King William’s Town, on the Grahamstown – King William’s Town Road, Peter Jones and Steve Biko ran into a roadblock. They were both driven to the police station. They would both face torture, brutal interrogation and serve time. Biko never walked out alive again.

The arrest of Steve Bantu Biko was a turning point in his life: it marked the beginning of the end of his life and the martyrdom of his political legacy.

In a cruel twist of fate, his arrest fulfilled the prophecy and words he said in an interview conducted by an American businessman months before his death.

Image of Steve Biko dressed in a suit. The quote superimposed on the picture reads,

The extract, On Death, is ironically the last chapter in his collection of articles – I Write What I Like, was published in The New Republic on the 07th of January 1978.

Biko said then: “You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway. And your method of death can itself be a politicizing thing…

“So if you can overcome the personal fear for death, which is a highly irrational thing, you know, then you’re on your way,” he continued.

His words underpin the courage required to carry out the revolutionary work he was carrying out at the time. The reason he was driving around at that time of the day equally required a similar amount of courage and lack of fear.

Biko prophetically highlighted the interconnectedness between tragedy and its possibilities within the South African political context.

His words not only referred to his own death, but to the death of many young students during the protests against apartheid education in June 1976, and the death of numerous colleagues of his in the Black Consciousness Movement such as his close friend and confidante Mapetla Mohapi.

This lack of fear of death would ultimately lead to his own murder by the security police, unleashing the political and social capital tragedy bestows on political and social movements.

At the time, Biko was serving a ban in King William’s Town and he had restrictions to adhere to.

The conditions of the ban meant he could not speak to more than one person at a time. He could not be quoted.

He was banned from publishing any writing material. He was closely monitored by the Security Police. He could also not leave King William’s Town without special permission.

When he was arrested, he was in breach of the latter. However, they had to be breached because if he didn’t, the system would have won, and that was the very reason the ban was placed on Biko to frustrate him and his work. Therefore, Biko was taking a huge gamble.

It is worth reminding ourselves why he took such a huge gamble. The arrest of Steve Biko is often overlooked.

Hence its significance is hugely glossed over and is often treated as mere footnotes to a much larger narrative.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior. Same with blacks. They Must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior. For all of us this means that South Africa is not European, but African.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

There are different accounts that explain how Biko got arrested. Some claim, there were spies within the movement that sold him out.

Others claim the roadblock was routine, and others that the policemen were on the lookout for external agitators stoking the ire of the continuing student and youth boycotts in Port Elizabeth.

Those closest to him claimed there were rumours going around that the Boers were planning to assassinate Biko.

His older brother and others urged him to leave and go into exile but Biko refused to leave his movement behind.

His older brother Kaya Biko who got Steve involved with politics admits, “Rumours were doing the rounds in town that the Boers were intent on assassinating Steve”.

“I approached Steve together with my brother-in-law to ask him to leave the country. The man said to us, ‘What kind of a captain will I be if I leave the ship I’m steering, while I see there are faults and it’s going to sink? I’m not leaving the country’.

“There was nothing we could do. That was Steve.”

Whatever the truth is, we will never really know. Speculation is not the objective of this article. There is little doubt that there were some in the Afrikaner Broderbond that wanted Biko dead. He was growing too powerful and the ban on him was not working.

The events of June 1976 and the trial of the Black Consciousness Movement also known as the SASO/ BPC Trial [May 1976] had only added to Biko’s stature: they had unwittingly offered him the stage to project his ideas across the country and internationally, cementing his place as the head of the liberation movement in the absence of the leaders on Robben Island and others under house arrest.

Biko took the trial and transformed it into the Black Consciousness Movement’s version of the Treason Trial and made it what it was for the Congress Alliance in the 1950s.

It is important to understand what happened before Biko and Jones were arrested to clarify why they were on the road at such an early hour and contextualise the arrest and significance of their journey.

Biko traveled the country extensively from time to time, despite his ban, travelling far afield as Cape Town and Durban, and more than once to Johannesburg.

He was forced to travel to Cape Town this time to meet guys from the Western Cape chapter of the Black Consciousness Movement.

There was a rebellion brewing with hardliners criticising his decision to meet American Senator Dick Clark in December 1976.

Image of Steve BAntu Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads: “The most important phenomenon in South Africa today is the blacks’ struggle for freedom.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

Clark was in the region, Lesotho to be specific, to attend a meeting of the African Institute. He thought it was important to consult with Biko as an “elder statesmen” of the movement though he was still in his twenties.

The event itself was not unusual. Biko was consulted on a regular basis by representatives of countries far and wide because he was recognised as the leader of the liberation movement in the absence of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and other senior members of the ANC or PAC who were serving time on Robben Island and were disconnected from politics and current affairs.

However, the militants were not satisfied. They argued that they had on matters of principle refused to meet members of the American government which they viewed as part of the oppressor camp.

They had even gone as far as rejecting a request from US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.

When the request was initiated, Biko had just been released from prison and had served a 101 day stretch. He consulted with his comrades who were still in prison.

The memorandum was smuggled in and out of prison by a warder who lived in Ginsberg. This memorandum was presented to Clark and was published in I Write What I Like. It appears under the heading American Policy towards Azania.

Biko was scathing in his criticism of the role of the United States in supporting the apartheid regime. He accused it of collusion in the oppression and exploitation of black people, and even went as far as encouraging it to boycott trading links with South Africa and reexamine its foreign policy.

There was also an additional problem. The hardliners in the Western Cape were not happy with the position papers the BCM had developed as proposals for the African National Congress [ANC] and Pan African Congress [PAC]. They did not think the proposals were radical enough.

They strongly opposed the concept of black communalism as the basis for future economic policy. They were pushing for a socialist/ communist vision for the country.

Steve Biko Christians

It is appropriate to clarify at this point that Biko was involved in clandestine negotiations with both the ANC and PAC to bring them together with the BCM and other black political movements to form a united front against apartheid.

The only parties who were not invited were the Bantustan leaders who were seen as sellouts and were complicit in the oppression and exploitation of black people because they had embraced the concept of separate development; therefore, facilitating a fragmentation of the resistance.

You can read more about why he regarded the Bantustan leaders as sellouts in his essay Let’s talk about Bantustans in I Write What I Like.

In this same book, Biko clarified his hopes about the unity of the liberation movement:

“I would like to see groups such as the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness deciding to form one liberation group. It is only, I think, when black people are so dedicated and so united in their cause that we can affect the greatest results.”

This is why these papers were so important and needed to be sorted out but the chapter in the Western Cape were complicating matters, adding to what was already a complicated process, using intermediaries to negotiate with members like Oliver Tambo who was in exile, and Sobukwe who was on the periphery of the PAC and also politically restricted but still yielding a lot of influence.

Picture of Steve Biko with quote taken from the Book I Write What I Like. The text reads: “If people want to be our friends they must act as friends, with deeds.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

The process was made even harder after Biko’s intermediary with Sobukwe – Mapetla Mohapi -was murdered by the Security Police in prison.

Biko was also in pursuit of unity talks with the Unity Movement in Cape Town. He wanted to meet with Alexander Neville who was the leading figure of the movement.

Alexander had just returned from Robben Island after serving a ten year stint in prison. He had set up a study group at his home which included members of his own movement and the BCM.

However, he was unhappy because his movement was unable to strike rapport with the Black community. Therefore, he requested his colleague, Nicki Westcott, who had strong connections with the Black Consciousness Movement in Cape Town to facilitate connections.

The two movements set out to forge an alliance through joint action. They had even gone as far as creating joint committees of the BCM, Unity Movement and the ANC to carry out collaborative projects such as the nationwide protest against the granting of independence to the Transkei on 26 October 1976.

ANC members such as Winnie Mandela and Joe Gqabi were involved in the collaboration.

The chapter in the Western Cape felt that the King William’s group had centralised the movement around its resources.

They believed the guys in King William’s Town were better paid because they were right at the heart of the funding.

Image of Steve Biko with quote reading: “By Black Consciousness I mean the cultural and political revival of an oppressed people. This must be related to the emancipation of the entire continent of Africa since the Second World War. Africa has experienced the death of white invincibility. Before that we were conscious mainly of two classes of people, the white conquerors and the black conquered. The blacks in Africa now know that the whites will not be conquerors forever.” Steve Bantu Biko I Write What I Like

It was against this backdrop that Biko was forced to travel to Cape Town to address these problems.

He didn’t believe he could address these concerns without physically meeting the Western Cape chapter even if that meant he had to violate his banning order.

The well being of the movement meant more to him than his physical safety because it threatened to curtail the struggle and to Biko that was unthinkable.

Biko as he often reiterated, “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than live for an idea that will die”.

The quote above encapsulates what the movement and struggle meant to Biko. He was prepared to die for it and sacrifice his life. Therefore, there was a lot at stake in this journey.

It was not a reckless game of cat and mouse that he was playing with the system. It was about taking the movement and struggle forwards and securing, ultimately, the liberation of Black people.

Before departing for Cape Town, Biko and Jones met with colleagues at the Zanempilo Clinic, one of the many black community projects founded by the BCM to serve the community, on the 16th of August 1977 to brief them about the meeting.

He left his car with one of the drivers to create the impression that he was around town.

They used a car belonging to Black Community Programmes executive member, Rams Ramokgopa, who was in town from Johannesburg with Hlaku Rachidi and Tom Manthata to discuss the programme of the unity of the liberation groups of South Africa: it had been passed at a resolution at an earlier conference of the movement.

As a result of that meeting, Steve and Peter Jones had to leave for Cape Town. At midnight, the pair slipped away under the cover of darkness.

Peter Jones, or PC as he was known, was a fellow activist from King William’s Town. He was also Steve’s friend.

On the 17th of August, at around 10 AM, they arrived in Cape Town. They went to Jones’ home in Strand, a town outside Cape Town. Biko took a nap while Jones went out to see the people they were supposed to meet.

The people were not aware the pair were in town. There were no mobile phones or pagers around during those days. Public phones were the only means of communication.

Whenever phones were used, the exchanges had to be coded because most were tapped by the Security Police.

Therefore, Biko and Jones mainly had to show up at people’s doors to nullify the security risk and eliminate the potential of spies leaking information about their presence in Cape Town.

Jones made contact with Ronnie Crotz and they went to fetch Johnny Issel who was a leader of the hardliners of the BCM chapter in the Western Cape.

Issel was not at home. Jones left a message with his wife and informed her that Steve was around. Jones proceeded to drop Crotz back at his home and fetched Biko to meet with Alexander.

Image of Steve Biko with the quote “Russia is as imperialistic as America. This is evident in its internal history as well as in the role it plays in countries like Angola. But the Russians have a less dirty game: in the eyes of the Third World they have a cleaner slate. Because of this, they have had a better start in the power game. Their policy seems to be acceptable to revolutionary groups. They are not a ‘taboo’.” The quote comes from the book I Write What I Like.

However, they had to link up with Fikile Bam who was an activist and later became a judge.

Bam, also known as Bra Fiks, had visited Biko at his home in Ginsberg in 1974 after spending a ten year spell on Robben Island and then was restricted to the Transkei.

He had requested Francis Wilson, his former colleague at the University of Cape Town,  and now a friend of Biko to pull strings to get him out of Transkei and Biko facilitated the escape.

It was at that ensuing meeting that Biko asked Bams to initiate a meeting with Alexander. So now that meeting was due to happen and Biko and Jones would catch up with the BCM guys later. The meeting with Alexander was a priority.

They were supposed to link up with a guy called Armien Abrams who was a manager of a community based factory set up by the BCM in Cape Town.

It fell under Jones jurisdiction. Both men were always in touch and Abrams was the perfect man to play the go in between.

However, there was confusion if Jones had communicated that they were coming over with Biko. Jones insisted that he did; Abrams denied it.

Bam was staying at a mansion in the suburb of Crawford. It belonged to Ismail Mohomed who was a mathematics professor at UCT. Abrams had been assigned the task of looking after it while he was away.

On the way to the mansion, Jones stopped to make a call to inform them he was on his way with Biko. Jones dropped Biko off at the mansion to ensure Alexander’s house was secure.

However, on Jones’ arrival, Alexander refused to see Biko. Although Biko and Jones had driven eleven hours to meet him, he would not meet them for a few minutes.

Jones had no choice but to return with the bad news. Bam was furious. He called Alexander and informed him he was coming over but couldn’t get into details over the phone.

He left with Biko. They parked at the back of the house. Bam entered and left Biko in his Volkswagen Beetle.  They argued for half an hour leaving Biko trapped and a sitting duck in the car.

Eventually, Bam stormed out without securing the vital meeting. Biko was disappointed. He had the highest regards of Alexander and had viewed him as a fearless revolutionary intellectual.

They returned back to the mansion where Jones and Abrams were. Biko insisted on returning immediately to King William’s Town because every minute they away the chances of been discovered increased.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which reads, “We are looking forward to a non-racial, just and egalitarian society in which colour, creed and race shall form no point of reference.”

In the early evening of the 17th of August, they hit the road and began the twelve hour journey back. They almost made it.

About an hour from home, the inevitable happened. Biko and Jones were stopped at a roadblock.

They were asked by the police to step out and open the boot. Jones attempted to open the boot but he couldn’t. The only person who could was Rams Ramokgopa and he was back at Zanempilo.

According to reports by Dr Xolela Mangcu and others, the car had been in an accident and there was a dent just above the left tail-light that caused the boot to jam.

Jones invited the cops to try but they also failed. Apparently, the cops were accusing Jones of been a terrorist who was on his way to see Steve Biko. Unbeknown to them, the man they were talking of was with them.

The senior officer – Colonel Alf Oosthuizen – gave orders to clear the roadblock and drive the two guys to the closest police station in Grahamstown.

The Colonel drove Rams’ car with Biko sitting beside him and Jones took a ride with the other officers.

At the police station the car was thoroughly searched. Not even the ashtray avoided close scrutiny. They found Jones’ wallet which had a few Rands and his identity document so they knew who he was.

To make the situation easy for Jones because Biko knew he would not talk on the basis of principle and would most likely be tortured to obtain the information, he admitted, “I am Bantu Steve Biko”.

The cops were shocked. It never crossed their mind that they were with the Biko they were talking about.

Biko and Jones were separated. Biko was taken to Walmer Police Station in Port Elizabeth while Jones was also taken to a prison in the same city, Algoa Police Station, but 250 km apart.

It was the last time the two friends would see each other.

Jones would spend a few years locked up. In less than a month, Steve Biko would be murdered and denied the unity that he cherished and pursued even when he knew that it could result in a lengthy prison sentence or cost him his life.

What was his motivation? Biko like most true revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara and Che Guevara was guided by great feelings of love. Love for his fellow men. Love for his society. Love for his country. Love for freedom.

It was this love that drove Biko to sacrifice all he had, career and family, for the ultimate price. His mission: The Quest of a True Humanity, which you can check out on Sister Nadine’s WordPress page: Iamgoodhope, encapsulates Biko’s ultimate goal.

Image of Steve Biko with a quote from the book I Write What I Like which states “We must reject, as we have been doing, the individualistic cold approach to life that is the cornerstone of Anglo-Boer culture. We must seek to restore to the black man the great importance we used to give to human relations, the high regard we had for people and their property, and for life in general; to reduce the triumph of technology over man and the materialistic element that is slowly creeping into society.”

He wanted to restore the true humanity of those who had been oppressed and exploited because of the colour of their skin, and also those who were damaged, and had lost their humanity through, actively or passively, supporting the apartheid system.

Biko’s has often been portrayed as the romantic and fearless leader but rarely is there a mention of how he had actively committed class suicide a theory pushed by Amilcar Cabral.

Biko sacrificed his career and any privileges his class and education would have entitled him so that he could work with the poor and underprivileged.

Those who supported apartheid were rewarded; those who opposed were stripped of their rights, their jobs, their voices, the right to earn and a whole lot of other rewards.

Image of Steve Biko accompanied with a quote from the Book I Write What I Like which reads “We don’t behave like Africans,we behave like Africans who are staying in Europe.”

By dedicating his time and life to developing projects like the Zanempilo Clinic and other community based projects run under the banner of Black Community Programmes, Biko had bridged the gap between the intelligentsia and the majority which he had diagnosed as a hindrance to the liberation struggle and accurately pointed out, “The separation of the black intelligentsia from the rest of the black society is a disadvantage to black people as a whole”.

Biko illustrated in this short analysis that he was a visionary and he understood that to bridge this gap, the black intelligentsia had to commit class suicide and work with the rest of the black people.

The failure of the current regime to bridge this gap has resulted in the rise of the technocrats and the big chief or big man syndrome which has resulted in high levels of corruption and the blurring between private and public interests.

Even at this early age, Biko displayed a level of maturity that all of our post independence presidents have lacked.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

His organisational abilities were exceptional: he created organisations that were not reliant on him but were able to operate through having different people changing leadership on a regular basis.

The murder of Biko left a gaping hole in the body politic of South Africa. The liberation movement lost the one man who had the ability to unify black people in solidarity.

The years of political violence between the black liberation movements in the eighties illustrates how Biko’s leadership was sorely missed.

It was as if he had recognised, long before, that the fragmentation of the resistance would one day become violent and he had sought to unify the movement before the violence erupted.

More than that, South Africa lost a fearless revolutionary intellectual  who led by example, and who had a genuine liberation ideology – Black Consciousness – that sought to free the minds of the people.

Picture of Steve Bantu Biko with a quotes from the book I Write What I Like. Quote reads “We believe ultimately in the righteousness of our strength, that we are going to get to the eventual accommodation of our interests within the country.”

That no other leader after Biko ever attempted to free the minds of the people, bears testament to the depth and greatness of Biko’s gift and style of leadership.

His greatest realisation was that “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Picture of Steve Biko with the quote,

And it was through the decolonising of the mind that the people would ultimately be set free as he argues in his essay Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity.

Biko understood that tyrants are not going to hand over power because they have sudden pangs of guilt but they will only do it when black people exert pressure on them and force them to concede power through internal or external agitation [or both].

Hence his message reminds us today that we must continually stand against oppression as he often reminded us that, “We must accept that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress”.

Biko’s words remind us that we are complicit in any situation where we find ourselves oppressed or exploited because most of us endure it sheepishly because we are too afraid to speak up and lose our rewards from the system.

Therefore, those who cherish freedom and liberation, like Biko and others who died in the liberation of South Africa, have to “overcome the personal fear for death”.

It is only when we are able to transcend the fear of death that we will find ourselves on the way.

It is not enough to be scholars of the Black Consciousness text, but we must embrace it’s spirit and live like Biko, following in his example and selfless sacrifice, and those other fearless revolutionary intellectuals who were prepared to commit class suicide and bridge the gap between the intelligentsia and the rest of the black people to move the goals of the struggle forward..

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Filed under Great African Leaders, Revolutionaries, Steve Bantu Biko, Under The Spotlight

Victory for The Upright Men: Triumph of the people’s will over a tyrant


Burkina Faso

Over the past few weeks I have observed keenly the events unfolding in Burkina Faso. I have written a number of articles documenting what has been taking place.

As I am writing now, there is a meeting in progress, which started at 18:00pm, where the leading men and women in Burkina Faso are in the process of picking a civilian leader.

Maybe before I publish this article, the new civilian leader in charge of leading the country through a transition period for a year will have been announced.

By then, this article will be old news but still good news. Maybe I might have to edit it and update it. Whatever the case is, the facts remain unchanged.

After Lt Col Issac Zida stepped down, the path to a new era was laid. He did the honourable thing and handed over power gracefully. He became an intergral link to history when he signed the transition charter. He duly got a standing ovation for playing his part in the smooth transition of power.

Image of Lt Col Zida

Lt Col Zida handing over the transition charter paving the way for civilian rule.

It could have been a bloody conflict which would leave behind residues of hate and plant seeds for sectarian violence as we have witnessed recent events in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc. where these nations have descended into anarchy and wave after wave of sectarian violence.

Thanks to the African Union for remaining on top of the situation. It is a good sign to see Africans resolving African issues in peace without the need for external intervention which mainly believes that total destruction is the only solution.

Therefore, it is no longer a question of if a civilian leader will be handed power but more a question of who and when.

The latter question is hanging in the balance for a few hours but the more pertinent question most of us want to know is who will have the honour of making history.

Whoever is chosen will be sworn in on Friday. The transitional president will choose a prime minister who will appoint a 25 member government. They will not be allowed to participate at the elections. The first government sitting will be on Saturday.

A committee of 23 compromising members of the army, religious and traditional groups, political opposition and civil society have the difficult task to select the chosen one. They have four to five candidates to choose from. These range from a priest, two journalists, a socioligist and a retired diplomat.

image

However, it appears that the church may have retracted the priests nomination citing that political power and priesthood were incompatible.

Therefore, you are witnessing history in the making. It may not be as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the moment Nelson Mandela walked out of prison with Winnie Madikizela Mandela on his arm, waving to people who came to witness the end of an era and beginning of another.

However, it is still a historic moment, especially, for the Burkinabe who made this moment possible. In the words of the late Thomas Sankara, they dared to invent the future. This is the future they have invented.

For the Burkinabe, it will be the first time in 31 years that they will have a civilian leader. For many young people under the age of 28, it will be the first time they will have seen a new leader apart from Blaise Compaore who ruled for 27 years after he overthrew the late Captain Thomas Isidore Sankara in a military coup on the 15th of October 1987.

Thomas Sankara

The fall of the strong man might herald a new era for Africa. I have to resist the temptation of waxing lyrical and romanticise the situation. Change is stubborn. Change is difficult. It is resisted by many for various reasons even if it is in their best interests.

Simply changing from what people know or are comfortable with may be be too much for some people because it forces them to change too. Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown that forces people to hold onto situations that are not conducive for their personal, political and social growth and development.

Change is not apocalyptic. It is a protracted process over time. It requires compromise. It calls for political maturity and interested parties to work together for the common good of the people and the country.

There will be conflict in bringing change to the country because different parties or factions will have different ideologies or methodologies that they believe work best.

The greatest challenge to change is having people who have the political will and honesty to implement the policy and ideas they propose. However, I believe that Burkina Faso has taken a mature step towards building a future compatible with their aspirations and will.

The events of the 31st October took many by surprise. Few foresaw how a sitting president of a stable country in Africa could be unseated by a popular uprising. It is rare. There are few precedents.

Lassina Sawadogo face to face with two soldiers

However, a number of presidents in Africa who have been in power for decades will have observed what happened in Burkina Faso and they will know it can happen to them too.

Anytime they see or hear of a protest, the events of the 31st of October 2014 will be at the back of their minds. It remains to be seen whether the cries of the Burkinabe youth “Enough is enough” will find resonance elsewhere on the continent.

Burkinabe protesters

People power: Burkinabe protesters gather in Ougadougou to protest against Blaise Compoare attempts to extend his rotten shelf life.

Gone are the days when the national media could censor events happening across the continent or all over the world. The advent of social media and various smart phone apps where ideas and knowledge can be shared without state censorship has weakened those who would want to keep ideas of uprisings at bay.

This continual flow of subversive ideas through technology, enlightenment through formal or informal education is a cause for major headaches for tyrants and rogues who keeping clinging to power amid the clamouring calls for change by the youth.

Those who refuse to respect the will of the people may regret their decisions when their empires come crumbling down and masonry and steel structures from the castles they build in the sky rain on their heads.

For a long time, Blaise Compoare like many African leaders, presided over a democracy in name only but not in substance or practise. He did so many things to transform his image to appear like a moderate leader and a respected consummate statesman who had his fingers on the pulse of what was happening in Africa.

He was a strong ally of the western powers in their fight against Muslim militants in the region but not even his powerful connections could save him when the time came.

However, the company he kept revealed more about his nefarious activities and his Jekyll and Hyde character. You can polish a turd and spray perfume on it but you can’t hide the stink. The Burkinabe smelt the shit and when it’s stench became unbearable duly flushed it down the toilet and consigned it the political sewer where it belongs.

The final act by Lt Col Zida to sign the transition charter to pave way for a civilian leader to head the government for a year marks a triumph of the people’s will over tyranny.

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November 16, 2014 · 9:41 pm

Was Mandela The Last Great Liberator Of The 20th Century?


They say history is written by the victors. The funeral of Mandela seemed to reinforce this aspect of history being rewritten from the perspective of the victor to suit the white supremacist agenda. Obama claimed, “Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the Twentieth Century.” I disagree. History is not always written by the victor. There are competing narratives written by others and the subterranean. We are privileged to have an overwhelming number of heroes within our midst and the victor/oppressor doesn’t decide our heros for us.

It is impossible to talk about Nelson Mandela’s without acknowledging the monumental contribution of Winnie Madikezela-Mandela. She is one of the most understood woman in the liberation struggle. She has played many roles such as social worker, political leader, mother, care giver, public speaker, revolutionary freedom fighter and to many in South Africa, she is the Mother of the Nation. Her role in South African history cannot be undermined by strangers who have never come clean about the role of the CIA and America in the surveillance that led to the arrest and consequent incarceration of Nelson Mandela. Winnie is a woman whose liberation struggle credentials speak for themselves. Image

By the time Barrack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, Winnie was already fighting against Apartheid. She was born and raised in the Transkei.  She distinguished herself as a leader and became the first black qualified social worker at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto in 1955.

Image

In the mid 1950s, she became actively involved in the ANC; she later met Mandela in 1958 while he was on trial for treason. They married soon after and she gave birth to two daughters, Zenani and Zinzi.

Their family life was destroyed when Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Winnie never got to live a normal family life as many people have. She was left ill-equipped by an unjust system to raise two young girls as a single parent. Anyone who is a single mother, or a mother knows how taxing it is to raise children without the support of a partner or husband. She was left to protect and educate her daughters alone. At the same time, the Apartheid regime kept her apart from her children to punish her and torture her soul and spirit. Nevertheless, Winnie remained politically active and refused to remain silent keeping the Mandela name and the struggle against Apartheid in the national and international conscience.

Winnie was harassed repeatedly on a daily basis by the Apartheid regime and she was eventually sentenced to house arrest in Brandfort as a Imagemeans to silence her for speaking out injustice. She never knew if she was going to sleep at home or in a police cell because of her political activities. She was banned for up to 15 years serving five years at a time. She wasn’t allowed to even go into the street in Brandfort. It was supposed to keep her out of sight and out of mind. It also stripped her of company and any intellectual stimulation with a community of like minded individuals.

She didn’t know the language of the sleepy and rundown town she was sent to but she soon learnt and radically transformed that area politically. This is what made Winnie Mandela a dangerous element in society, hence, the need to gag her by any means necessary. But she remained a defiant and outspoken firebrand fighting for the people of South Africa and to keep the Mandela name in the public.

When she was questioned if she believed if she would see a free South Africa in her time, she was absolutely convinced. She went on to explain, “That is why exile is so worthwhile because I am absolutely certain that we shall attain our liberation. And even being in exile is a constant reminder of the sickness of our society. We are virtually in prison even in our country, those who are outside prison homes are simply in a bigger prison because the black man is virtually a prisoner. And all those fellow whites and other groups that are as oppressed as we are, we are all in a bigger Apartheid prison.”

In Brantford, she had to go to the local post office to receive calls from her daughters because she was under house arrest and they could only call at certain times. She was kept isolated from them to torture and break her down. The system did everything within its power to humiliate Winnie and break her spirit. No matter what they did to her, it strengthened  Winnie Mandela’s resolve.

ImageWinnie resumed her struggle after spending 9 years in Brantford and again took the spotlight in the struggle to against Apartheid. Although her fight for liberation has been dubbed controversial, she was a woman without a choice. She didn’t have the tools, resources, media, state institutions and various arsenal the Apartheid Regime had at its disposal.

Therefore, in extreme circumstances, extreme measures are justified. She fought the only way she could against a regime that used brutal violence to stifle legitimate protest. She was at war against a regime and she fought a war that most of the leaders never got to experience. While the liberation leaders were locked up on Robben Island, Winnie Mandela was in the frontline fighting the ignoble regime by any means necessary. She was organising on the streets, actively involved in the underground movement and creating publicity while facing harassment and humiliation by the regime.  Image

Unless one has walked in Winnie Mandela’s footsteps, it is very difficult to criticise her because you would need to face the same moral and personal dilemmas she faced in the struggle against Apartheid. It is a miracle she escaped with her life because hundreds of others who dared to challenge the Apartheid Regime didn’t live to see Independence. Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe are some of those. The list is too long to mention.

Many assume Mandela was attracted by Winnie’s striking beauty. But many underestimate how her strength played a part. Her strength is reinforced by her belief that her people should be equal. She believed there should be justice for black people. She played many parts and is a leading figure in the fight for women’s’ rights. She served the poor, conducting fundraising events and assisting those in the ghetto who were less privileged than she was. This is illustrated by her huge grassroots following; her love for the people is equally reciprocated.

Winnie has continually shown that she is very resilient. Her strength and ability to adapt is evident in her ability to Winnie VIImultitask while raising two girls under Apartheid, having to avoid imprisonment, evading police, keeping Mandela’s memory alive while she was also playing a leading role in the underground movement.

The release of Nelson Mandela was the highlight of Winnie Mandela’s struggle for liberation. She never looked back and was appointed as the President of the ANC Women’s League in 1993. She still continues to serve on the party’s national executive committee.

For over three decades, Winnie Mandela stood by Nelson Mandela’s side. Even after her divorce from Mandela, she continued to be his companion and was often seen by his side to the very end. There is little a man can ever ask for with such a strong, beautiful, black woman by his side, making his struggle her own struggle and the struggle for the rest of the oppressed masses in South Africa. Whatever wrong Winnie Mandela may have committed, her struggle for the liberation of a Imagefree South Africa marks her as one of the greatest liberators of the Twentieth Century. Without Winnie there might not be a Nelson Mandela.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s only fault is that she is too outspoken and remains a firebrand who has refused to cool down with age unlike Mandela who emerged from prison a shadow of his former revolutionary self. Winnie continued to fight while Nelson took a backseat content with the historic compromise. Winnie refused to see racism as the root cause of Apartheid oppression but also identified that Apartheid thrived because of the economic system.To date, Winnie remains outspoken and critical about the historic compromise, the TRC and Mandela walking hand in hand with his jailor to receive the Nobel Peace prize. She also remains critical at the state of the lack of transformation in South Africa and continues to champion the poor.

Unlike many of her revolutionary comrades who have morphed effortlessly  into the black bourgeois and forgotten the struggle, using their credential struggles to accumulate wealth, Winnie has remained an isolated figure clamouring for the rights of women and black people. She frequently engages in events highlighting the lack of transformation in South Africa and simultaneously waging the fight for women’s rights and redefining the frontiers of this unending battle.

Her biggest enemy is the white patriarchal economic system which has repeatedly attacked her, demonised her and snubbed her portraying her as a loose canon. Winnie has repeatedly waged a dignified war against oppression and Apartheid. If the white patriarchal system endorses Patrick Henry’s role in sparking the American Revolution and fight against domination by another nation, then, why is Winnie demonised for making an equally bold stance? Is it because she called for violence against whites, who happened to be the oppressors who created and ran this Apartheid System?

Winnie Mandela is no different from Joan of Arc in answering a higher call at an early age to lead her people to victory over those who wished to politically, socially and economically subjugate her people. Winnie remains outspoken on issues regarding racism which Mandela resolved by sticking band aid over deep seated wounds. At an address for women’s rights in Chicago, Winnie declared:

“Discrimination against black women is multi-pronged, multi-sectoral and transgenerational. Black women are discriminated by white supremacy; they have to contend with male prejudice fed by patriarchal notions, they suffer abuse from white women who are also beneficiaries of white supremacy. At the same time, they are expected to form alliances with these women to defeat male privilege. They are expected to be in solidarity with their male folks to fight racial oppression. In this regard they have little choice. They cannot sit on the sideline and watch the black male being reduced to an endangered species. After all, these men are the fathers of their children, the lovers, and their sons. In short, there is no other species that understand oppression as black women do.”

The contents of her speech don’t reflects the mind of a loose canon but an individual with a strong moral conscience Winnie VIIIand a deep thinker. Black women suffer three times as much discrimination as other groups because of her class, race, and gender. Winnie’s moral and intellectual qualities are often underplayed or totally ignored in the mainstream media. It is sometimes forgotten that she became the first qualified black social worker at the age of 19 during Apartheid. Such jobs and avenues of studies used to be reserved solely for whites. So one can only imagine how hard and smart Winnie had to be to excel in this profession. It also seems to be her grounding in social work that allows her to be so insightful in matters that concern society. She doesn’t wince in the face of power and continues to speak to power as illustrated in her Chicago speech:

“We survived apartheid and are now faced with a challenge of defeating global apartheid and global gender discrimination… Our successes should not lull us to complacency. The forces of evil continue to refine their strategies to fight back. We need to constantly remind ourselves that our oppression has economic and material interests. Our oppressors spend sleepless nights trying to reclaim the lost territories. We cannot defeat the specter of racial discrimination without a clear-eyed analysis of what constitute racism. We need to debunk those analyses that are unhelpful to our cause. Our understanding of the drivers of racial oppression should empower us to address other forms of discriminations – gender, class, religion and sexual orientation.”

No one can doubt Winnie’s sincerity in the fight against Economic Apartheid. Her rallying cries upset the idyllic picture painted of South Africa as a Rainbow Nation. Ironically, there is no colour black in the rainbow. Her fight is clearly to overturn the white supremacist structure in the fight for justice. This partly explains why Winnie remains marginalised by that same structure that controls the media and constitutes “popular” or “international” opinion. There is nothing popular or international about that opinion: it is the opinion of a tiny minority that constitutes the white middle class. They control and run the western media.

Claiming the late Nelson Mandela was the last great liberator of the Twentieth Century is wrong. That is a discredit to the likes of Winnie Mandela and others. She is a true heroine who can only be compared to legendary female icons like Nandi [mother of Tshaka], Assata Shakur, Queen Nzinga of Angola and Ambuya Nehanda from Zimbabwe. We cannot compare Winnie to the likes of Rosa Parks who refused to get up on a bus during the Civil Rights Movement in America. She spent a great proportion of her life in isolation when she was exiled by the Apartheid Regime. But that wasn’t enough to break the will of Mother of the Nation. She was not physically imprisoned but her banning orders meant she was in prison at her own expense. The extreme isolation imposed on her wasn’t enough to silence her indomitable spirit. Winnie Mandela is a struggle icon equal to if not greater than the late Nelson Mandela.

Winnie IX

By the time Obama read about Mandela in the eighties, Winnie Mandela was at the forefront of the liberation struggle against the ignoble Apartheid regime for over two decades. We can forgive Obama for overlooking our warrior queen but we should never forget our heroines and heros. She has continued fighting taking off where her former husband left off when he retired from frontline politics. There is an African proverb that states, “Until the lion learns to speak, the tale of the hunter will glorify the hunter.” It is our duty to document our history and challenge the dominant or victor’s narrative so that the people never forget our heroes. True heroes and heroines are also flawed and that is why Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is a great liberator of the Twentieth Century without a doubt. I salute this intellectual revolutionary and Mother of the Nation. Aluta Continua: the struggle continues!

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