Reflections on Winnie Mandela's relationship with Palestine

Reflections on Winnie Mandela's relationship with Palestine
Blog: The long-time activist and former wife of Nelson Mandela was not just an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, but also a prominent voice calling for justice for Palestine.
4 min read
09 Apr, 2018
Human rights activist Winnie Mandela at the 54th ANC conference [Getty]
The news of the death of Winnie Mandela, the former wife of the late South African president, Nelson Mandela, marks an important watershed moment in the history against colonialism and oppression.

Another formidable giant in the fight for both racial and social equality has been lost. She was 81 years old and her death was confirmed by her personal assistant this past Sunday. According to a family spokesman, she died after a long illness for which she had been in and out of hospital since the beginnning of the year.
Dubbed "The Mother of the Nation", Winnie Mandela, who was married to Nelson Mandela for 38 years, played a high-profile role in the battle to end white-minority rule in South Africa - which was until 1994 in support of apartheid practices; separating and subjugating black South Africans across different spheres of society. 

She herself was imprisoned for her activism for 491 days in solitary confinement by the South African apartheid government.

No doubt, her place in history - which was also stained by controversy - will provoke mixed reactions to her death, with debates and essays provided in the following days as to what her true legacy in South Africa's anti colonial struggle looks like. On the one hand, accusations of her links to "necklacing" which saw suspected traitors burnt alive, trapped in petrol-soaked car tyres, her conviction of kidnap and assault over the killing of 14-year-old Stompie Moeketsi and suspicions of her elicting an affair makes for difficut digestion for a woman as formidable as her.
But it also reveals a haunting truth, that our heroes - however formidable - can never have a truly purist legacy in whatever fight they found themselves, and is as true for Winnie as anyone else.

One area for which she and Nelson Mandela were praised was their support for the Palestinian cause. Nelson and Winnie's activism and support for equality and fairness on the world stage was exemplified by their approach to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Like many of her contemporaries, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, she believed that the fight against racial inequality was inextricably linked to the Palestine question; accusing Israel of implementing apartheid policies against Palestinian communities. 

If anything, the recent Land Day commemorations which saw at least 15 Palestinians killed and hundreds injured by Israeli police and soldiers is a staunch reminder of the need to resolve the ongoing crisis which has seen further illegal settlements being built, the controversial announcment by US President Donald Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and the global outcry made against the conviction of activist Ahed Tamimi.
Apartheid Israel can be defeated, just as apartheid in South Africa was defeated
Winnie believed that the struggles in South Africa during colonial rule were a reflection of practices taking place against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and was in direct support of what she believed was an extension of South Africa's fight against inequality, stating in 2004: "Apartheid Israel can be defeated, just as apartheid in South Africa was defeated." 

This comment came as she addressed a meeting arranged by a Palestinian solidarity organisation in Lenasia, Johannesburg, and she was known to be a staunch supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

The solidarity that she and her husband Nelson Mandela showed in the globalistion of the struggle of which they were very much a part is a profound part of their ongoing legacy and mark. The kind for which many non-black Muslims were ostracised in the wake of the recent killing of 22-year-old African American, Stephon Clark, with accusations via social media that the revelation of his being a Muslim created an abrupt interest story by the Muslim communities, who prior to that piece of information were silent and passive. 

Winnie's legacy is that of her husband - a depiction that our struggles, while they are not the same, are almost certainly interconnected and intertwined. This is something from which we all can learn.

Adama Munu is a broadcast journalist focused on Afro-Arab relations. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Middle East politics at Birkbeck College.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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