Winnie Madikizela – Mandela; Our Great Revolutionary

To talk honestly about Nomazamo Winfred Madikilzela is to confront the reality of black men’s complicity with white supremacist patriarchy.

It is not lost on me that even as we mourn the loss of a formidable, unrelenting fighter for freedom, we must in the process fight to defend her legacy from the vultures of the system that tried and failed to break her so many times. I am also fully aware that many will try and relegate Winnie to ” Mandela’s wife;” shallow, sexist erasure of her work and her agency as a womyn who existed not simply as an appendage to someone else but as the face of the movement that confronted a violently racist apartheid South Africa. What is even more interesting to me however, is the role of black men in all this. When I learnt that Ma’Winnie had passed, I was filled with a deep sadness that I’m going to try and articulate in this piece.


There has been no time in our histories where black womyn have not fought besides, ahead of and for black men for liberation. Even today, we continue to march with, speak out and join in the struggle against the oppressions black men are subjected to. The reverse however is not true for us. Black men continue to terrorize, rape, abuse, assault and side with black womyn’s oppressors against us.  In talking about black liberation, it is crucial that we unpack the impunity that surrounds the uniquely sexist and harmful ways in which womyn have been treated, even as we have continued to do the emotional and physical work of championing black liberation.

Ma’Winnie stood against all odds and refused to diminish herself or what she believed even when the party she held and the men she supported faltered. The response to her endurance was dismissal, slut shaming at its very worst and erasure of her work. Compared to the noble peace prizes, the land and the forgiveness that the perpetuators received, one would assume that she was the villain in this story. In attempting to survive, black men have adopted the very violent nature of white supremacist patriarchy, and because of the nature of this hierarchal oppression, black womyn are the recipients of their rage. As a result, black liberation is now centered around the needs, rules and narratives of black (mostly cisgender) men. It is this system that demonizes radical womyn who dare to reject conformity and allows for the embrace of watered down respectability politics.

No amount of theorizing can undo the great injustice that has been done to black womyn whose radical politics, attitudes and fight against injustice in all its forms has always included the liberation of the black man; but the time has come to call out such behavior and refuse to be forgiving of the violent process of the abuse and erasure of black womyn revolutionaries.

The task that lies ahead is therefore to begin to reimagine a vision of black liberation that is divorced from this very narrow confine that has been defined for us. What is black liberation if it doesn’t recognize and celebrate the black womyn who are in the forefront fighting for black men even when they do not fight for us? What is black liberation if it is rooted in homophobia and is centered on classism? The true question of who we need liberating from at this point is one we must answer. If black men continue to adopt the same oppressive tactics of white supremacist patriarchy, then black womyn will be left with no other option than to forge ahead without them. To ignore or deny the oppressive nature of the privilege these men have is to not pay attention to what is happening around us. The task then is for black men to reach the understanding that womyn hating and sexism only serve to defeat the goal of black liberation. Without this understanding, black womyn who have staked their lives to fight for the cause will continue to suffer dearly.

Winnie Madikilzela – Mandela will be remembered for who she was, for what she symbolizes; a relentless feminist icon who refused to negotiate her humanity and by extension the humanity of all black womyn. She is a force that black feminists must continue to celebrate and the voice we must replay when faced with adversity.

Rest in Power Ma’Winnie. You continue to live in many of our hearts.


Twasiima Tricia

Tricia is a radical feminist from Uganda with a deep love for red wine. She is a lawyer, writer, and when she can find the time, a lover of life. She hopes to use her writing as an expression of anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observes throughout her life especially against black womyn. Tricia is interested in using her writing to inform, teach and perhaps even help spark the much needed revolution. She tweets at @triciatwasiima

  1. Comrade Winnie Mandela writing to Tata Nelson Mandela shortly after her release from prison
    “My Husband,
    I can only hope that the guards do not completely destroy this letter. I have recently been released from Pretoria central prison. They called me a terrorist Nelson; I was only doing my job and speaking on behalf of the ANC. They kept me in solitary confinement for a year but I never stopped thinking about you and our girls each day while I was in there. I knew that the girls were safe away at boarding school but still I constantly worried about you. In prison, they treated me like an animal Nelson, they tortured and humiliated me. Those first few days are the worst in anyone’s life – that uncertainty, that insecurity. The whole thing is calculated to destroy you. [I was] not in touch with anybody. And in those days all I had in the cell was a sanitary bucket, a plastic bottle which could contain only about three glasses of water and a mug. The days and nights became so long I found I was talking to myself. [My] body [became] sore, because [I was] not used to sleeping on cement. I know that your conditions at Robben Island are not much better but my days in jail only made me stronger. I want to fight Nelson; I want to free our people from the white government. The police continue to harass me all the time. Each day, I wonder if I will able to return home to see our girls. Nelson, your daughters live in fear each day. They have already lost the presence of their father; they cannot lose me as well. Even though Zinzi is a year younger than Zenani, she has really taken over my role as the mother of the house. Our girls have your heart, especially Zinzi, she talks about wanting to bring about change and fight for your freedom and for our people. I don’t know how our girls have continued to be so strong, especially while both of us were locked away.
    They no longer allow to continue my duties as a social worker, so I am only focused on my role in the ANC. My love, we are so lucky to be blessed with friends and neighbours who are helping us during this difficult time. How do the police expect me to feed our girls with no income? I am just thankful for the help from our people. Nelson, I have had such little time to love you. But our love has survived all these years of separation so far. I long for you all the time. When I do get to have visits with you, I can only touch your hand. I want to kiss you; I want to be able to converse with you without hearing the white guards shout “Politics” to cut off our conversations. I want to watch you be a father to our children. But most of all Nelson, I want to fight. I want to hurt the white man, the filth and disgust that they have put us and our people through. They must pay for everything that they have done. You were right when you said “I had married trouble” because trouble is what I am going to give them. I will continue to fight each day for our people.
    Until I see you again my love.

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