“ To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock”

It is without a doubt that if Winnie Madikizela Mandela would have been a man, so much grace and heroism would have been attributed to her personhood and her legacy purified for the entire world to swim on it. Winnie’s entire legacy has been always overshadowed by acclaimed and very loud critics of her failings, calling her ” a fraud ” , ” too radical ” , ” a murderer ” and so on. However it doesn’t change that for some of us, Winnie represents the revolutionary decolonizing feminist we aspire to be for our families, our communities, and our countries. 

We don’t talk enough about the sexism and the everyday patriarchy that African women part of decolonization movements endured while witnessing their efforts and their contributions erased. Winnie like every wife of a revolutionary leader, watched the world either erase her efforts or demonize them. For over three decades, Winnie dedicated her life to the liberation struggle and fight against apartheid. When Nelson Mandela was in prison, Winnie was the one doing the necessary work with the people and going through constant arrest and humiliation. She did a lot of work to keep Nelson’s own name and fight alive through the intense bond they shared. 

Yet Winnie Mandela couldn’t escape the sexism, no matter how powerful she got. The apartheid state terrorized her life and her kids.  She was demonized, painted radical for her fury at injustice. And the occasion arose, she was crucified beyond redemption. The truth is that Winnie Mandela like any freedom fighter this continent ever knew, took part of war acts and violence that were crucial to the freedom of her people( like the smuggling of guns in and out of the country for the resistance). The truth of ‘ Winnie’s controversy and her so-called crimes” is that she was a woman. If she would have been a man, her heroism and legacy would have been unquestionable. She would have been celebrated for daring and doing what was needed for freedom. She would have been honored for keeping her commitment to Nelson Mandela’s legacy and shared vision of a liberated South Africa.

Nevertheless, Winnie Mandela remains the ancestor we honor today on her birthday. We celebrate her for challenging the image of the perfect African woman who just minds the domestic house. We honor her for showing us the place of a woman is in the revolution.  This isn’t to say that Winnie is above critique but to point the truth of her existence that she was overjudged as she challenged the world to analyze how they swallow men’s actions to women’s actions. More importantly,Winn the legacy of Winnie Mandela in the media and statewise has been a roller-coaster of sexism precisely misognoir. 

One cannot stop and wonder if Nelson Mandela and ANC could easily forgive the apartheid rulers, how is the woman who spent decades fighting for the liberation of her people above that same kindness?


Feature photo by Winnie Mandela illustration by Mordecai Mashamaite


Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.

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