It has been weeks now since the mortal remains of the mother of South Africa, Mrs. Winnie Madikizela Mandela was laid to rest but her memories will continue to linger on.
I went into immediate denial when I first heard the breaking news of her death on BBC on 3rd April 2016. I refused to accept the sad news because to me, good role models do not die.
I never met the affable Winnie Mandela face to face. Yet, she had a crush on me the best part of my adult life. She touched my heart in so many ways. I first came across her in the late 1970s when I started my career in journalism with the Daily Graphic and was given responsibility for the “Women’s Page”.
Fight for emancipation
At the time, women’s emancipation and gender parity were some of the emerging agenda. Mrs. Mandela then was very much a personality at the fore-front of this both in her country and on the African continent.
But not only that. I admired her energy in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, fighting alongside her husband, Nelson Mandela. She inspired me beyond measure the passion with which she continued the fight for emancipation even after her husband was incarcerated.
She fought on defiantly not allowing her gender to be a hindrance in an environment where women were not supposed to be seen or heard in public. She inspired me playing the effective role of single parenting to two very young girls who no doubt would have kept asking for their father. The girls probably asked countless times when their father was coming home, Christmas after Christmas and birthdays after birthdays.
She soldiered on even to the point when she was forcibly taken from her home and thrown into solitary confinement in some remote village away from her Soweto home. She must have cried endlessly for the well-being of her young daughters as months of confinement went into a year and over.
Going through my adulthood and very early in my professional life, Mrs. Mandela was an exemplary role model for me. She continued to be my role model for all that she stood for until her death early April 2018.
I was overjoyed for her in 1990 when after 28 years of fighting for the release of her husband and an end to apartheid; Mr. Mandela was finally released from jail. I felt her battle was over and one day, my role model was going to assume the position of the First Lady of South Africa as the clamour for Mr. Mandela to stand as President on the ticket of the ANC grew by the day.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. I felt a great sense of pain and disappointment when just two years after his release from jail, Mr. Mandela divorced a woman who had stood defiantly by him. Was that her pay back?
I was heart-broken and asked so many questions about the divorce. All manner of accusations were preferred against her. But honestly, none of the reasoning concerning the things she supposedly engaged herself in, and the alleged political embarrassment that she was going to pose should Mr. Mandela become the President did not sit well with me. I continued to ask if she was not made a sacrificial lamb at the altar of political expediency.
But as strong a woman as she had always been, she gathered courage over the years and did not allow the divorce to shatter her life or cause bitterness between her and her ex-husband. Amazingly, she even played a central role in the funeral of the late husband. She was visibly committed to ensuring that the former husband had a befitting funeral. How many of us women divorced by a man one had stood solidly behind, would spend so much time and energy in his funeral arrangements?
As a human as she was, Mrs. Mandela had her shortfalls. She was abused, accused, charged and put before court. She stood firm in all of that and came out looking even more beautiful. She did not allow the detractions to destroy her, well at least outwardly.
The demise of the Mother of South Africa continues to take some shine from me. As I watched the impressive state funeral accorded three weeks back and the thousands of sympathisers who thronged the stadium to mourn her, their pain and sorrow became mine. She definitely touched many lives and has left positive impressions in the country she fought for so many years.
The youth of her country would definitely miss her. The ANC party would miss the role she played in the emancipation struggle. The women of South Africa would genuinely miss her and so also the women of Africa. Her family, particularly her daughters, would never find a replacement for the void she has created. For me an admirer from afar, she would always remain a role model.
And so, to Mrs. Winnie Mandel, my epitome of womanhood, may the light you lit in South Africa continue to burn. May the Angels welcome you home. Rest eternally.