BOOK REVIEW / Fallen mother of a nation: 'The Lady: The Life and Times of Winnie Mandela' - Emma Gilbey: Jonathan Cape, 18.99
Saturday 08 January 1994
Out of these attitudes came a unique harassment of Mrs Mandela. For some 30 years the Security Police threw their worst at her: the usual banning orders were the least of it, including restriction to a defined area and prohibitions on her being with more than one person at a time. She was also banished far from her home, she was often raided and was hounded by watchers who recorded her every move. She was repeatedly detained without trial, or charged in court on both major and trifling charges.
Mrs Mandela stood up to it. But finally, as the world has come to know, it all caught up with her. The very qualities that had fuelled her resistance transformed her into her own worst enemy - and ensured that she came to be feared and rejected as much as she had been admired in the community she served. The populist 'Mother of the Nation' became in township graffiti, 'Mugger of the Nation'.
In The Lady: The Life and Times of Winnie Mandela (Jonathan Cape, pounds 18.99) Emma Gilbey draws on newspaper and magazine reports, court records and her own research to tell a story which takes in just about every aspect of human behaviour and misbehaviour, from love and courage to greed and murder. Some of her most effective reporting is on the chaos of life in Johannesburg's black township, Soweto, where not only Mrs Mandela's protectors - the young thugs of the Mandela United football club - but also gunmen of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), roamed the streets armed to the teeth, assaulting and killing almost at will.
It's a huge, sprawling story and unfortunately Gilbey proves inadequate for the telling of it. Errors abound in her writing. The host of misspellings go beyond any reasonable bounds: one of the silliest among the many is 'Lienberg' for a senior state prosecutor, Liebenberg.
In a more serious vein, Gilbey is dim about the year when the African National Congress changed its name, is half-a- century wrong about the use of the word 'Bantu' for black people and is a quarter-century wrong about the start of sanctions against South Africa. She is nave about the circumstances in which the police pressed 'terrorism' charges against the Dean of Johannesburg, the late Gonville ffrench-Beytagh; is ill-informed about Mrs Mandela's lawyers; and is insultingly ignorant in her references to Nelson Mandela and the founding of Umkhonto, and to the views of the late Robert Sobukwe of the Pan- Africanist Congress. That's just for starters.
She reveals little insight into the agony that lay behind the community's decision to distance itself from Mrs Mandela, or why Nelson Mandela was impelled to maintain his public support for her for so long. Ms Gilbey is superficial about these because, as with the errors she perpetrates, she does not know better. The life and times of Winnie Mandela deserve better.
Nelson Mandela Speaks (Pathfinder, pounds 12.45) is, in its nature, of a different class. It is a collection of more than 30 speeches, statements and press interviews by Nelson Mandela since his release from prison in February 1990, up to July this year. He spoke to mass rallies, community meetings, and conferences in South Africa, as well as gatherings in Britain, the United States and Cuba, and at the United Nations.
The consistent thread is racial conciliation and creating a South Africa which, having provided an ugly lesson in racism for so long, now has the chance of showing the world how people of different colours can live together.
That such a possibility exists is not always evident in these days of violent turbulence. But that Nelson Mandela could emerge from more than a quarter-century of political imprisonment to declare these views, and that he has succeeded in getting so many of his countrymen to go along with him, shows what might yet be achieved.
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