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Mandela book reveals his family cruelty unknown to the world

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Johannesburg (Alshahid)-  A new incisive book on Nelson Mandela, portrayed by Western world as a saint,  has revealed that since Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison in Western Cape in this February 11, 1990 twenty years on, most black South Africans still live in abject poverty.

The revered statesman, reveals author DAVID JAMES SMITH, has a cold side that has blighted the lives of his children, set them against each other and created a potentially acrimonious fallout when he leaves the scene

Winnie Mandela was arrested for the first time in her life in October 1958, after joining the ANC women from Orlando at a public protest against passes. Some 2,000 women assembled and over two days more than 1,200 were arrested, most ending up in the police cells. Winnie was held there herself for some two weeks.

“I have married trouble, George,” Nelson Mandela told his advocate friend George Bizos. He had not tried to stop Winnie taking part, but had warned her of the potential consequences. He was almost proved right – she did lose her job as a result and it looked as though she might lose her baby too, as she started bleeding in the cells.

Albertina Sisulu, one of the leaders of the protests, together with a nurse, both took care of her and the bleeding eventually stopped. They were relieved when Zenani (meaning, What Have You Brought?) was born on February 5, 1959. Mandela was at the treason trial in Pretoria at the time, but at least he had been there to take Winnie to hospital the night before.

Winnie found a new job as a social worker at the Child Welfare Society and went back to work when Zenani was five months old. She became pregnant again and suffered an early miscarriage, which Mandela attributed to the “acute tensions” of the treason trial.

Winnie became pregnant for the third time soon after and Zindzi was born on December 23, 1960. Of course, Mandela was elsewhere at the time; it was the Christmas break in the treason trial and he had been called to the eastern Cape to see his son Makgatho who was ill at school there. Mandela broke his ban to drive through the night to collect his son and bring him back to Johannesburg into the care of Makgatho’s mother, Evelyn.

Mandela did not know until he got home that Winnie had gone into premature labour. The baby was fine but Winnie was weak. Mandela went on the run three months after Zindzi was born. She had no memory of him at all before her first visit to Robben Island in the mid 1970s. Zindzi was almost 30 when her father was freed but still entertained hopes that they could at last have the normal family life she had never known. She soon realised that was impossible. She accepted that people don’t really miss something they’ve only ever fantasised about.

But how she had longed for that normal family, through all those years. Even before her father was freed, she was refereeing arguments between her two parents at visits and meetings. Heated exchanges. They both had foolish pride. He could be very angry and also very stubborn. One of his greatest weaknesses, said Zindzi, is that the first person who comes with a report is right.

“I used to say, what type of lawyer is this?” What type of politician, too, one might ask. Mandela, a true democrat, was renowned for his listening skills, taking everyone’s opinion into account. In domestic matters, by the sound of it, he took a more dictatorial stance. Once Zindzi accepted that her parents could not be reconciled, it became easier for her to welcome Mandela’s third life partner, Mama Graca – Graca Machel, the widow of Samora Machel – into their family.

Graca had made it clear to Zindzi, quite openly, the first time they met, that she would never occupy Winnie’s place in Madiba’s heart. That was something everyone is agreed on, even now – that Winnie was the great love of his life. But the new relationship had at least provided some members of the family with a stable emotional base. Graca was warm and affectionate, said Zindzi, while her father, though loving, was physically undemonstrative.

Stability was notably lacking in all their lives. No wonder, as Zindzi said, “All of us – Madiba’s kids – have had rocky relationships. I filed twice for divorce, tried again, it fell apart. My sister was also having difficulties, she’s separated now. Makgatho also had a second marriage. There’s a pattern here.”

Zindzi embraced Graca but still blamed her father for the troubles her mother had endured, holding him accountable for the unhappiness she had known herself throughout her disrupted childhood, through the years of isolation and harassment.

Zindzi was sure her mother had suffered, and that she still struggles with depression. Winnie had done her best to shield it from her children, always maintaining a veneer of optimism around them, according to Zindzi. She was determined to be strong and expected the same of her children, too.

“I don’t want to see you cry, especially in front of the enemy. Never show them you’re weak.” No tears, no therapy: that was not their way. ‘I fall apart in the shower but emerge with my head held high,’ was how Zindzi put it. She could see the pain behind her mother’s mask and felt her father was responsible. There was a period after his release when Zindzi did not have contact with him for two years.

“I was really upset with how he was treating my mum. We can sit together and talk about things now. He’s mellower.” But when people ask her, how can he make it up to you, she says she wants things that can never happen, a walk in the park, a playful roll around on the grass. At least when she sees him with the grandchildren, that completes something for her.

Winnie had done much to shape her children’s view of the world, trying to be both parents at once, while keeping their father alive in their imaginations. He loomed large, said Zindzi, but was never real to her. They knew he was in prison for a good cause and they became politically aware from an early age. Their education was affected as they moved from one school to another, disguising their identities and even sometimes their appearance.

Perhaps to compensate, or as Zindzi suggested, to protect them, Winnie always tried to make out that all the relationships in the family were rosy. She would never bad-mouth Mandela’s former wife, Evelyn, and told her own daughters they had two mothers, encouraging them to call her predecessor Mama Evelyn.

Winnie claims that, contrary to what she has read in books, she had a very good relationship with Evelyn. “He [Mandela] would write to me and tell me to go and look after his children. Even his first wife’s adult children, he would write to me and scold me if they were not in school. He was that type of person. He cares for everybody and it wouldn’t even occur to him to send the letter to his first wife. No, he does not consider things like that.

Courtesy Daily Nation Kenya

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About the author


Wilfred Mulliro is Kenyan columnist. MA in International Studies from University of Nairobi, B.Ed. in English Literature from Kenyata University. His articles which focus on Social issues and Politics appear in Kenya's leading Newspapers.

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