Winnie Mandela’s unyielding stand for independence and freedom deserves no apology

Armstrong Williams | 4/19/2018, 3:18 p.m.
Walking down the streets of cities such as Cape Town, South Africa, today, one would almost think one were somewhere ...
Armstrong Williams

Walking down the streets of cities such as Cape Town, South Africa, today, one would almost think one were somewhere closer to San Diego, Calif. Balmy weather and big waves bring out the blonde surfer types in droves. In the beachfront cafes along the shore, a light breezy banter can be heard among the clinking of wineglasses and scraping of forks on fine china. Cape Town today looks almost the same as it did when Winnie Mandela had to endure its streets while growing up as a young, Black South African.

Marginalized and placed out of sight of polite company was how most of the Black natives of the land were treated. Keep in mind that the natives also accounted for more than 95 percent of the population of South Africa. Apartheid South Africa was a contradiction in themes, held together by the most strained thread of credulity. On one hand, a gleaming symbol of Western man’s enlightenment and conquest over wild nature, replete with the traditional symbols of urban life: rush hour traffic, gleaming skyscrapers and even freedom of the press (to some degree).

But beyond the carefully manicured lawns and the walled mansions of inner cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town were literally throngs of concentric circles of townships. Consigned by law to shantytowns, Blacks lived without sewage, electricity or even trash collection. Outside of the maze of concentric circles, the remaining vast majority of Black Africans found themselves banished to barren Bantustans and nominal reservations where they languished in poverty and near-starvation.

To any Black South African with a brain or a heart, this condition was the ultimate insult. At least in America, one could reason, Blacks suffering from Jim Crow were unwelcome cast-offs in a foreign land. But to have it happen in your own country? A foreign invader simply moved in, took over and pushed you off of your land? It had to be excruciatingly difficult for any Black South African to suffer under such indignity, heaped upon the already injurious theft and oppression.

Winnie Mandela suffered more than most. Not only was she separated from her husband Nelson Mandela for three decades while he languished in an island dungeon, but also she herself was banished to a small town, away from her family for almost a decade. She survived multiple assassination attempts by agents of the apartheid government. She was beaten, tortured and jailed. I heard these stories from her firsthand when we visited her. In one instance, she was thrown into a cold, wet prison cell. She was alone for more than 10 months. Just when she thought she had reached the end of her emotional tether, a guard tossed a bible into her cell, taunting her to see if her God could save her. God did. Reading the bible gave her the strength to persevere in the face of seemingly incredible odds.

Make no mistake about it, Winnie Mandela is a hero. She is a hero in the American spirit of Patrick Henry who demanded liberty or death. She is a hero in the spirit of George Washington, who fought British oppression, risking his life and fortune to forge a new path for America. Winnie Mandela exemplifies what it is truly like to go to war to fight for not only her own freedom but for the freedom of her home, South Africa.