Winnie Mandela will not kiss power goodbye

From bitter struggle to troubled victory, the populist heroine has had the support of South Africa's dispossessed


Winnie Mandela may have been sacked from the South African government yesterday, but she is a survivor who has fought back from worse predicaments with a populist panache lacked by many of the top leaders of the African National Congress.

The estranged wife of President Nelson Mandela is not a woman easily nailed down, as everybody from South Africa's old white apartheid rulers to interviewers have found. Taxing her with her conviction for kidnapping and allegations of corruption, one reporter remembered her response: a full kiss on the lips followed by a sweeping exit from the room.

Even her date of birth is slippery. She gives her age as 59, but in fact she is 61 years old, daughter of a provincial schoolteacher and descendant of a tribal chief. Her relatives sometimes take the title "princess": Winnie Mandela's staff and admirers have dubbed her the Queen of Africa. With her regal bearing and flowing robes, the title is only half a joke.

Winnie Mandela was a pioneer and risk-taker from thestart. She was the first black health worker in South Africa when Nelson Mandela married her in 1958 after plucking her from the fringes of his generation of black political activists.

"I told her it was more than likely that we would have to live on her small salary as a health worker. Winnie understood, and said she was prepared to take the risk and throw in her lot with me. I never promised her gold and diamonds, and I was never able to give them to her," wrote Mr Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to reedom.

Not only did Mr Mandela not give her gold and diamonds, but he barely gave of himself. Winnie only lived with him for five weeks before he disappeared for his legendary 27 years in jail, and even then he often only came home to sleep between work and political meetings.

Mrs Mandela was drawn deeper into politics. She daringly spoke out for the ANC during the darkest years of apartheid. She endured constant police harassment and 17 years of orders barring free movement. She was also jailed for 16 months.

Mrs Mandela's radical speeches appeared to condone the use of "necklacing" in township fighting, and she defended herself with an unsavoury group of bodyguards, the Mandela ootball Club. Rough justice was meted out from a kangaroo court operated by Mrs Mandela and her daughter, Zindzi. Most punishments were beatings, but the 14-year-old activist Stompie Moeketsi Seipei was murdered in 1989. Mrs Mandela was eventually sentenced to six years' imprisonment for her role in the kidnapping of Stompie, reduced on appeal to a £9,000 fine.

This atmosphere, Mrs Mandela's active love life while her husband was in prison, and the fact that the leader of the ANC was never at home persuaded South Africa's most famous couple to separate in 1992.

The Stompie scandal also forced Mrs Mandela to resign her ANC posts, but she soon came storming back. The 3,000 delegates to the December 1994 ANC congress chose her as their fifth-favourite leader.

But after the ANC won the April 1994 elections, Mrs Mandela never adapted to her role as a deputy minister in the government of national unity.

Meanwhile, she acquired the trappings of worldly wealth that Mr Mandela says he did not give her, and she still enjoys the inestimable weight of the Mandela name as she tries once again to repair her political fortunes outside the established system.

David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments