Since the news of struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s passing shattered the nation on Monday 2 April, her legacy has been celebrated and scrutinised anew. South Africa is mourning the loss of the Mother of the Nation, and while we grieve, we’ve revisited the archives to honour the stalwart’s memory and set the record straight on her fight for her freedom. In the midst of the pain and controversy, local poet Lebo Mashile has ensured that Mama Winnie’s legacy is not tarnished.

Local and international actresses including Terry Pheto, Naomi Harris and Jennifer Hudson have played the role of a younger Mam’Winnie with as much care to their craft as possible, but not even a multi-award-winning actress could play the role of Winnie better than herself. Hers was a monumental purpose only she could fulfil. As Lebo Mashile says:

‘You would have to take probably about 10 historical figures to make sense of how big she is. You’d have to take Sarah Baartman, and Queen Nzinga and Marilyn Monroe, and Angela Davis, and Steve Biko… and put all of these people together to make sense of what her contribution is and what she represents in the minds and in the hearts of the people. She’s that big!’

‘Anything you say about her, she looms larger than it. And that’s what it means to be an icon,’ Lebo Mashile continued in her eNCA interview earlier this week. This thought-provoking interview is not the only time Lebo has used her powerful words to preserve the memory of the late anti-apartheid icon.  Frustrated by the Western media’s reductionist headlines on the evening of Mam’Winnie’s death, she tweeted:

This poignant statement is reminiscent of another observation, made by Esther Armah in Rewritten Narratives:

‘White women claim a home in feminism, but failed to recognise that [Winnie’s] revolutionary choices ultimately helped move a people to a political freedom and certainly enabled a man to become a symbol.’

Lebo Mashile has shared many anecdotes about Mam’Winnie with Shaija Patel, (some awe-inspiring and others saddening). The Kenyan author has posted them in a thread:

These tributes and truths are a fraction of all there is to admire about Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life, but Lebo Mashile’s tributes have been a sweet reminder of how it’s always a beautiful day when one black feminist icon wholeheartedly honours another.

So why not take some time this weekend to watch the 2018 documentary titled WINNIE by Pascale Lamche and narrated by Mama herself, which ‘explores Winnie Mandela’s life and contribution to the struggle from the inside.’

You could also pick up a copy of 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s journaled anecdotes of despair and resilience during her 491 days in detention.

Winnie Madikizela 491 days