Winnie Mandela – what happened when I met her in Soweto.

I worked  as an election observer for the first democratic elections in South Africa and was based in Burgersdorp in the eastern Cape.

I went to Soweto to visit the small one storey house she and Madiba had lived in. It is now a sort of museum. While I was poking around letters and ANC posters etc a door opened and Winnioie entered accomanied by a small group of Chinese men, possibly a delegation from  the  Communist Party. Possibly.

I melted into the background before offering to take a photo of Winnie and her visitors –  it beng the day before selfies etc. To be honest, knowing her reputation for being a somewhat forcefull woman, I was slightly intimidated by her. However, she smiled  and asked: ” Don’t you want to be photographed with me?”

I thought of  the many friends  and co-workers who disapproved of Winnie for a variety of reasons, people both black and white.

Nevertheless I put those thoughts to one side and accepted her invitation. I was influenced by a friend, Frankie,  who together with her husband ran the anti apartheid group in Ireland and who stuck with it throughout those terrrible years of Madiba’s incarceration. When people criticised and shunned Winnie, Frankie pointed out that Winnie too had suffered during those years – imprisonment, solitary confinement ( 400 days) , relocated to different faraway towns, threats to her children, reimprisonment. And still she kept stong and faithful to the ANC. And so I had my photo taken with her and when  she put her arm round me it was strong as a steel.

Next blog is about the first sitting of the first  democratic parliament of South Africa. Winnie was there. So was Madiba, Joe Slovo and other stars of the struggle.

It’s all in my book: Journeys of a Lifetime.




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