WINNIE: The Inconvenient Truths

From the lavish coverage afforded the death of Winnie Mandela (April 3), one might be forgiven for thinking that the Mercury had changed its name to the Winnie Mandela Times.

Underpinning that eulogistic coverage was your editorial. Apart from a fleeting acknowledgement that she was “a controversial figure at times” – on which you failed to elaborate – the Mercury’s sycophantic coverage of the issue was well summed up by its cartoon depicting the departed “icon” adorned with a halo.

This is not the first time that journalistic objectivity has been set aside. Other ANC “icons” have received similar treatment. Whilst it is perfectly reasonable to acknowledge the trials and tribulations Winnie Mandela experienced on behalf of the cause she served, in appraising her life, her dark deeds cannot simply be airbrushed from the record.

In the mid-1980s, she famously declared that “with our matches and our necklaces we will liberate this country.” About 800 black people suffered the gruesome fate of necklace immolation. She and the late Peter Mokaba exhorted their followers to “kill the farmer, kill the Boer.” Such intentions and exhortations served to inflame an already tense situation and can only be described as criminal.

In the late 1980s, as a thorough investigation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission revealed, Winnie Mandela and her soccer team were feared as gangsters and responsible for the murder of several people, among them the 13-year-old Stompie Seipei and Dr Asvat Abu-Bakr.

In 2003 Winnie Mandela received a five-year jail sentence based on 43 counts of fraud and 25 theft offences. The magistrate found that she abused her position as head of the ANC Women’s League and defrauded dozens of poor folk (See: The Guardian, 25 April 2003). How this squares with the accolade that she was the “mother of the nation” is difficult to fathom.

Such misdemeanours – crimes, in politically incorrect parlance – cannot be simply be brushed under the carpet as inconvenient truths. Significantly, the poll conducted on News24 as to how Winnie Mandela would be remembered showed that 74% of those who participated believed she would be remembered as “a law unto herself.”

Sent into The Mercury and published, 4 April 2018.

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