Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: ‘It’s time for change of leadership’
The images of the striking woman once celebrated as the ‘mother of the nation’ marking her 80th birthday, in September 2016, surrounded by South Africa’s political and business elite testify to her resilience. In one photograph, two of the country’s rival presidential contenders – billionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa and firebrand radical Julius Malema – have their arms entwined around Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, all three smiling broadly for the camera.
Madikizela-Mandela’s influence today is more than nostalgia for the glory days of the liberation struggle when she – as the consort of jailed African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela – became the most powerful symbol of the anti-apartheid movement.
For millions of South Africans today, Madikizela-Mandela personifies those hopes of liberation two decades after the demise of white rule. That is why, in 2007, she won the most votes in elections for the ANC’s powerful national executive committee. And when Madikizela-Mandela laments the lack of economic liberation and the corruption engulfing government and business, it resonates widely.
The tragic arc of Madikizela-Mandela’s biography has hardly dented her popular appeal. In 1989, when 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi was discovered beaten to death over rumours that he was a spy for the apartheid regime, the man convicted of the murder – one of Winnie Mandela’s bodyguards – said she had ordered it. In 1991, she was acquitted of all charges bar the kidnapping of Moeketsi. At the urging of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, Madikizela-Mandela apologised to Moeketsi’s family and admitted “things went horribly wrong”.
In 2003, her prosecution for fraud forced her to resign all leadership positions within the ANC, but she remains one of the party’s most popular figures. Whatever Madikizela-Mandela has to say about her country, its leaders and policies, will find an eager audience.
F.S.: You said last July that the ANC had “messed up” under President Jacob Zuma’s leadership. What do you mean by messed up?
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: We are in trouble in the sense that we have never been so weak and never had the attacks we have from all over the country. You pick up a newspaper, every day one leader or other is discovered to have been corrupt. Corruption is our weakest point in the ANC. […] It is tragic that we have great policies as the ANC, we have a problem in implementing them because we do not as government go out there to implement the policies we pass in the legislature.
After Jacob Zuma leaves the presidency, do you think he will be charged and prosecuted?
Well, obviously if what [the opposition] say is true, obviously it is time for change of leadership. […] Surely the remedy is that new blood must take over, and we hope that that new blood will take the mantle from us and run the last mile of total freedom.
The unemployment rate is at 27% and a third of South Africans live on or below the poverty line. Has the ANC failed?
We have just discovered that very little has been done since liberation in this country. We are reverting right back to the racist state, now and again you see in the newspapers remnants of white racists who are calling us those racial names of yesterday. Of course, unemployment is a most dangerous thing for South Africa. All the figures you have quoted are true, and I have stated in my speeches now and again that unemployed youth in South Africa are a ticking time bomb, and God help us should there be the next revolution.
Do you think that Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters can fix the crisis?
I don’t think it will come from him alone, but he is definitely the future of this country, as I stated years ago when he was expelled from the ANC. I told them what Julius would do and he has done exactly as I predicted; that he would break away from the ANC, he would form a party that was going to attract the youth at a time when the ANC is in trouble. It is true that hundreds and hundreds of our youth from the ANC are joining his ranks; there is nothing we can do about it until we go to conference in December.
After the release of Nelson Mandela, you disagreed with him politically. Is it true to say that for him the priority was peace and for you it was justice?
Yes, we disagreed on a number of issues. Firstly I think we lost it when we were negotiating the future of South Africa. I think when we were negotiating at that table we made a lot of mistakes. […] In dealing with the land, for instance […] we came up with a policy that stated that there should be a willing buyer and a willing seller. Even the ANC has conceded that that policy was wrong. Where were we going to get the money to buy the land? […]
So we need to revisit the constitution of our country, I still believe so. I think it was not right for us to go to parliament as a party that was called proportional representation. And at the time this proportional representation was meant to protect the white minorities or any other minority group so that it wasn’t only the big parties that went to parliament, but obviously that didn’t work.
We would have to at one time or another revisit the constitution and go to parliament according to our constituencies, and perhaps we’d be able to weed out this degree of corruption and people will be more accountable because they will be accountable to their constituencies.
The ‘Rainbow Nation’ – is it a myth or is it a reality?
Well, to me, it was a myth from the beginning. The rainbow colour does not have black.
How deep is the racial gulf in South Africa?
We are discovering almost daily that it was a facade that there was any transition. We haven’t transited at all into the new democracy as we find out right now that every now and again blacks are called monkeys, every now and again there are racial slurs and there are people who are assaulted at KFC depots, and the question of racism is raising its ugly head again. And racial incidences are cropping up all over the country. So it was really a facade that we were totally free, we are not. […] We do not have economic freedom and we haven’t dealt at all with the question of racism, because here we are back to the days of apartheid when we were called names because we are black.
This article came from the November 2017 print issue of The Africa Report