News & Media

Remembering Mama Winnie

Thursday 2 April 2020 marked the two-year anniversary of the passing of struggle stalwart Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela. An eerie chill ran through me as I continued to submerge myself in her story from her book, 491 days.

On 12 May 1969, security police stormed the Soweto home of Mama Winnie and detained her in the presence of her two young daughters, then aged nine and ten.

Through her indomitable courage, she raised high the banner of resistance against the apartheid regime, thus setting a worthy example of self-denial.

For that she was met with brutality and was subjected to extreme pressure; however, in the face of death, detention, exile and constant hiding, she was committed to the cause to the end.

In President Ramaphosa’s words after her passing: "For many years, Winnie bore the brunt of the senseless brutality of the apartheid state with stoicism and fortitude. Despite the hardships she faced, she never doubted that the struggle for freedom and democracy would succeed. She remained throughout her life a tireless advocate for the dispossessed and the marginalised. She was a voice for the voiceless."

Mama Winnie remained unbowed and determined to continue the struggle for freedom. Like the true embodiment of defiance she was, the tougher the punishment the stronger her resolve grew. In her own words she said: "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" - 1987.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Prof Mandla Makhanya (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor) at the graduation of her granddaughter Zoleka Mandela in March 2018. This was one of Mama Winnie’s very last public appearances.

Mama Winnie fought heroically against apartheid and sacrificed her life for the freedom of all. Even after the gains of democracy, she spent the rest of her life advocating for equality, access to education and many other just causes. For these reasons, she was affectionately known and called Mother of the Nation. In commemorating her contribution to South Africa, last year in August, Unisa renamed its iconic former Theo van Wijk Building to the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Building.

Mama’s life encompassed commitment to community upliftment, opposition to apartheid and determination to build a non-racist, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. Here at Unisa, Mama’s spirit and her values will continue to live for generations to come as she had a long intimate association with the institution. While she is gone, her legacy lives!


* By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Senior Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Additional reading:

Hamba kahle, Mam’ Winnie

'I wish she could have been here tonight'

Unisa leads transformation agenda by renaming historic buildings

Publish date: 2020-04-07 00:00:00.0