Imbokotho Mama Nomzamo: “i am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”


“So what does a woman do in the absence of her husband…”

I have tasked myself with the responsibility of writing an essay about an extraordinary woman referred by those that love her as the “Mother of the nation” (uMama weSizwe) who i believe has been taken away from us by this “peaceful” white supremacist society because of her radicalism against the apartheid regime, as i was growing up i used to listen to my mother talking highly about this woman who was the pillar of the movement for over two decades and who was the voice of black women, but i couldn’t help but notice that she could not talk about this woman without identifying her to the former president Nelson Mandela. I have always wanted to know why this woman was presented as a controversial leader in the post apartheid South Africa but celebrated as a struggle stalwart, it is in this spirit that i wish to fulfill this duty that has followed me over my teenage years and adult life. Who is Mama Nomzamo?

Mama Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe  Madikizela was on the 26th of September 1936, she was born in the village of eMbongweni in Bizana, Pondoland today Eastern Cape. Mama Nomzamo was the fifth of nine children, Her father, Columbus, headmaster and minister of the Transkei Governments’ Forestry and Agriculture Department during Kaizer Matanzima’s rule. Her mother, Nomathamsanqa Mzaidume (Gertrude), a domestic science teacher, died when Winnie was only eight years old . She did her primary and high schooling at Bizana where she was a head-girl, and it is where she proved her extraordinary abilities and excellence as a student with potential. She completed her degree in social work in 1955 at the age of 19 years and was offered a scholarship to study at the USA, but she chose to turn it down and instead wanted to practice as the first black social worker at the Baragwanath hospital, doing something that many at the time would not even think of.

According to Bedzrob (2003: 54), this young woman who chose people over carrier was touched by a research she had carried out in Alexandra Township to establish the rate of infantile mortality, which stood at 10 deaths for every 1,000 births as a result of migrant men who had wives back home but had babies with women outside marriage, these women would abandon their babies at the Baragwanath hospital. She and a friend Matthew Nkoane helped unite many babies with their mothers and elderly patients unite with relatives, she also visited new mothers in a quest to make sure that babies were receiving proper nutrition and making sure that the conditions of life were conducive for growing new born babies, doing all this she was only 20 years but cared so much about people around her than herself, this must have been a well taught and generous woman, indeed she was the product of the masses. A brilliant woman.

At the time of meeting Tata Nelson Mandela, she had already taken interest in politics and would often attend many ANC (African National Congress) meetings with her friend Mama Adelaide Sisulu, and continued to be part of the resistance against apartheid through the short number of years she had spent with the man she loved and had just married. When she married this man she was warned by her family that if she marries this man she would not only be marrying him but the struggle against apartheid, and she understood that, in fact that was what she wanted too, a democratic, non-racial South Africa. This woman as young, as she was, was full of fire and the spirit for liberation and the creation of a new society, a society where woman and children were cared for and treated with love, a society where black people had human dignity and could have equal opportunities.

A strong woman who spent 491 days at a solitary confinement and became sick due to poor diet and inhuman conditions she was subjected to. She describes the feeling and says “You are imprisoned in this little cell. When you stretch your hands you touch the walls. You are reduced to a nobody, a non-value. It is like killing you alive. You are alive because you breathe. You are deprived of everything – your dignity, your everything”; this  was after a series of harassment, police raids in her house while with kids, and many arrests, how can we forget this heroic woman, how can we let whiteness make our mother so absent in our memories, how is it that South Africa has not stood up and asked has she ever found any peace inside after the torture and horror that that woman and her children were subjected to.

A writer Carolyn Moon writes an  essay on Mama Nomzamo  in 2009 and says “I feel that she’s been the most misunderstood and demonized of the leaders during the years that led to and after Nelson Mandela’s release. In fact, once he was released, seemingly, she was no longer needed and became a liability to the movement. It’s my contention that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings made a hero out of F.W. deKlerk (who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela) and relegated her efforts and painful struggles to an abyss that she cannot escape. At 73, she still addresses the issues that are unresolved in South Africa — especially the treatment of women — and continues to encounter resistance over what she says or doesn’t say”. This noble daughter of the soil was described by Activist Maya Angelou as “a woman and a strong woman and an intelligent and loving woman”. What more can i say about this woman.

Shireen Haasim (A life of refusal: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and violence in South Africa)  brings up a point about the idea of violence and women in the struggle for democracy and says “the imagery of women as the mothers of the nation deploys essentialist ideas of women as caring and nurturing,reluctantly dragged into politics as a result of the attacks on their men by a cruel system” it therefore follows that if women are seen not to be violent as Mama was the violence that this woman was subjected to with no one by her side and with her children to think of must have had some psychological effects, that led her to resort to violent measures of resistance, this must have brought darkness and rage on a woman as quiet and shy as Mama was said to be, surely this woman was torn apart inside. South Africans especially black South Africans need to be very considerable in their inconsistent celebrations of their struggle heroes and heroins.

In closing let me afford myself a chance to applaud Mama Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela on her love for the nation, her commitment to the struggle, let me ask all South Africans to pray for her that she will get well after undergoing back surgery earlier this month. Women in South Africa must fight for the celebration of our female leaders, i am asking myself even now why is there no school named after this woman no bursary named after this glorious name, she truly was a remarkable woman, a woman that the former president (referring to struggle years) describes as “a pillar of the movement”, she will always be the Mother of the nation, the president of the women’s league, the face of the struggle against not only the apartheid policy but against injustice as she portrayed at the age of 20 years, walking house to house visiting new mothers in conditions that were not safe for her to carry out her duties but she would adamantly make sure that these mothers got the support they needed, you will forever remained an example Mama. A warrior! A Queen! Your pain is felt by many Get Well Soon!!!