Late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela stood firm against the apartheid regime and did not give up on the struggle for liberation, even though she was detained and harassed numerous times.
She remained true to her convictions and was a source of strength for other African National Congress (ANC) members, who were detained with her in 1969.
This is according to ANC Veterans League head, Snuki Zikalala, who met Madikizela-Mandela as a teenager doing bicycle deliveries of crockery and cutlery at a law firm in 1966. After their first encounter, they frequently saw each other when Zikalala was doing his deliveries and discussed what was happening in the country.
Zikalala and Madikizela-Mandela discussed the plight of black people, who faced discrimination under the apartheid government. The two talked about how black people were not allowed to get a quality education, the segregation they experienced and how the labour laws were violated by the apartheid government.
“I told her that as a young person who was still studying… we want to get rid of this system and they were determined to make sure that we get rid of the system, but the ANC was banned at that time. It was illegal to talk about the ANC or Nelson Mandela.
“After speaking to [Madikizela-Mandela] every day when I was doing my deliveries, she then invited me to her house because at the office where she worked, we had to speak in hushed voices so people couldn’t hear our conversations,” Zikalala said.
After meeting at Madikizela-Mandela’s home, they discussed how Zikalala could mobilse the youth to join the ANC ranks and set up underground structures. The young people who joined the ANC were eager to get weapons, but Madikizela-Mandela told them they had to first understand the ANC policies and they needed to know the Freedom Charter.
Mama Winnie introduced them to stalwarts such Joyce Sikhakhane, Rita Ndzanga and Samson Ndou, who would provide them with the political education they needed.
“They made sure we understood and knew the Freedom Charter. We got trained on how to handle weapons, assemble weapons and we researched companies that were manufacturing arms. We also did research on how we were going to sabotage the trains, especially those that were carrying economic goods,” Zikalala said.
But before they could carry out any of their plans, they we were all arrested in May 1969. They were detained for 18 months, 12 months of which were in solitary confinement.
They were trialled under the Suppression of the Communism Act and Terrorism Act. In September 1970, they were released from detention and banned.
“This meant that we were not allowed to meet or sit with more than three people. We were not allowed to go to church and school,” Zikalala said.
Mama Winnie the rock
Sikhakhane said the banning order did not prevent her from meeting with Madikizela-Mandela.
They would travel to Johannesburg using the trains at different times and meet in the toilets at Park Station or at Westgate Station.
Sikhakhane remembers Madikizela-Mandela as supportive to the group that was detained and a mother who loved her children.
“I want her to be remembered as a freedom fighter who was uncompromising. The enemy tried to smear her [name] in many ways, the [death] of Stompie [Seipie] for instance. She didn’t compromise her political values to please the regime’s security forces and what the regime wanted politically.
“She really was able to handle the [tactics that were used] to smear her. She was resilient. She stood against a vicious system. It’s really commendable,” Sikhakhane said.
When Zikalala met first met Madikizela-Mandela, he said he did not know that she was the wife of Nelson Mandela because she presented herself as only a person that was committed to fighting against oppression.
“She was a fearless person, who was committed to the liberation of the whole of South Africa and committed to the poor. She gave us courage when we were on trial. She used to tell us not to give up because we were going to defeat the apartheid system and we needed to remain united,” Zikalala said.
He said she was committed to liberating the poor.
“She is a person who wanted to see an equal distribution of wealth in the country and for women to get emancipated and to be treated equally,” Zikalala said.