Bold, unapologetic, uncompromising, violent, revolutionary, mother, impossible, feminist, slut, ungovernable, criminal -- these and more are some of the words that have been used to describe Winnie Mandela, one of the most radical feminist leaders Africa has witnessed. Akina Mama wa Afrika in her weekly round-table discussion meant to keep our minds alert and agile towards different feminist disciplines and principles held a vibrant discussion about Winnie Mandela’s brand of leadership that eschews respectability. This article highlights some of the key reflections from the discussion that attracted external feminists. Did I mention that South African music was played prior to the meeting to set the scene?
In describing Winnie Mandela, a great deal of injustice was done in calling her the mother of the South Africa nation even though this was probably well intended. Limiting Winnie’s achievements to her motherly nature left a huge amount of her achievements buried. It is never said of Nelson Mandela or Kwame Nkrumah and other fighters in Africa’s liberation struggle as being Fathers of their Nations. It was unanimous from the discussion that Winnie Mandela is a revolutionary who was unfairly discarded.
Winnie Mandela was a force! To refuse to be boxed into any narrative and play patriarchal politics, knowing the consequences and remaining unshaken is unforgettable – Edna Ninsiima, Blogger
Her struggle against Apartheid rule in South Africa brought to light the role women played in the African liberation story despite the fact that they were the most marginalized group at the time. Winnie’s contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle which the patriarchal system has worked so tirelessly to erase is just part of a larger conversation about the deletion of women's participation in revolutionary struggles. In that regard, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of OXFAM international was mentioned as one of the women who played a significant role in Uganda’s liberation war but is not as meaningfully recognized as her male counterparts. The question remains as to whether history will absolve Winnie and the numerous women leaders and allow them a place amongst the great revolutionaries in history. Imagine meeting a group of young people 30 years from now wearing Winnie’s face on their t-shirts!
In our definition of black liberation, we often discuss black liberation for the good of black men. It’s unfair that women fight for black men who continue to oppress women – Tricia Twasiima, Lawyer
Thinking of Winnie’s uncompromising brand of politics and the price she had to pay, spending 491 days in solitary confinement among other injustices, her kind of radical leadership is what Africa needs today. With her ‘militant’ brand of leadership, Winnie Mandela confronted various oppressions affecting her country people. There is a place for radical strategizing for feminists to employ in order to apprehend the Africa we envision. Many of the activists feminists have trusted with their struggles, especially politically, do not have women’s rights and gender equality at heart which calls for radical feminism and better feminist organizing. Africa is ready for radical feminism because it is ready for transformation. Gender discrimination continues to prevail in all spaces and women will not sit back and take it nice and slow.