September 26 would have been Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s 86th birthday. To remember and honour this South African icon, IOL is republishing a series of special tribute articles written by those who were closest to her.
These articles were first published on September 26 in a commemorative edition supplement in The Star and Pretoria News, as well as in the commemorative edition digital magazine.
By HRH Zaziwe Manaway and HRH Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela
“Hi Darling, how are you?” are the words we will always miss hearing from you.
Big Mommy, the world felt so safe when you were here. Now you are no longer with us, nothing feels the same nor will it ever feel the same again. Losing you has been the most difficult experience we have ever gone through, and the loss of Aunty Zindzi two years later made your departure that much more difficult to bear.
Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was our grandmother, but she could also be our mother, a freedom fighter, and the Mother of the Nation, all at the same time. We called her “Big Mommy” – and while she was a beacon of hope to many across the world, at home she was the most loving and amazing grandmother anyone could ask for.
As we reflect and celebrate your 86th birthday, Big Mommy, we are so sad you won’t be here to watch the release of the documentary about your life we all worked on together.
But we are heartened that you knew about it and saw some of the early edits, and that you knew just how committed we are to ensuring that your name and those of the many other women of the freedom struggle are not forgotten.
As children, we don’t ever remember a time when our grandmother ever turned away anyone who would arrive at our homes in Soweto, first at 8115 Vilakazi Street and later at the house in Maseli Street we still call “Parliament”. She would always say, “Oh darling, how can I say no to anyone who comes to my gate?”
Our home was always filled with people. Everyone who arrived at our gate was always let into the house and was welcomed with a big hug and smile from Big Mommy. This confirmed to us what true selfless giving and sacrifice looks like.
Our childhood was filled with memories of you, Big Mommy, abundantly showering each and every one of us with deep love and protection. There was no other place where we felt safe, secure and protected. Even though our home was constantly raided by the apartheid police, firing teargas, kicking down the door and repeatedly arresting you, taking you away to be thrown in prison, there was no other place where we would have rather been but next to you. Our main concern was when you would be home again.
As a mother to our mothers, Zenani and Zindzi, we witnessed the unconditional love and unwavering affection you had for your daughters. Without granddad during the apartheid years, and after his release, you continued to be the father they never had. Your girls could do no wrong in your eyes. We remember seeing the pain and suffering you, mom and aunty endured. But as always you would mask it, hide it with your big radiant smile. It pains us to see our mother now having to live her life without you.
In public you were a symbol of strength to your people and the country at large. Despite all the harassment and brutality inflicted upon you by the vicious apartheid regime, you stood firm, courageous and never wavered in your fight for the liberation of our country. Without you, Big Mommy, South Africa and the world would have forgotten about our grandfather and all the other political prisoners in jails throughout the country. In your own words, Big Mommy: “We don’t give a damn what the historians say.” This is a fact.
To us you were the model of what a loyal and devoted wife means. You never turned your back on your husband, despite the pain and suffering you endured for the loyalty and support you gave him. It pained and angered us in adulthood to see how the country, and some of your most trusted friends, betrayed you. It infuriated us when the same people who had deliberately hurt you would, in their hour of trouble and need, turn to you and seek your support, comfort and guidance which you gave without hesitation. You so easily and naturally forgave and soothed everyone else’s pain. Looking back on your life and how you lived by your principles, you truly exemplified what forgiveness means.
When asked what you would like your legacy to be, you would always say, “My children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren”.
Thinking of you, Big Mommy, we are brought to our knees, filled with pride and gratitude that we had you as our grandmother.
Aahh’ Nobandla, aahh’ Nobandla, ahh’ Nobandla!
Read the Winnie Madikizela Mandela Commemorative Edition digimag below