In April 1994, while working at the University of Dar es Salaam, I was tasked by the late Mama Sophia Kawawa, then Chairperson of the Tanzania National Women’s Organization of CCM (UWT) to organize a national congress that would discuss “The Position of Women in Tanzania under a Multiparty Political System”. The agenda of my meeting was to invite Mwalimu Nyerere as a keynote speaker to the meeting that eventually created the Independent National Women’s Council of Tanzania (Bawata).
In the course of the discussion Mwalimu spoke so highly of Winnie Mandela. I was taken aback by Mwalimu’s dismay and disappointment at the way Winnie was being treated in South Africa. Now that Mama Winnie has finally gone home to rest, and her many adversaries have since admitted that they did not give her a role and place she deserved in post independent South Africa, let me use this opportunity to narrate what Mwalimu said about her, and the circumstances of the discussion. It is a story that vindicates Mwalimu’s profound understanding of leadership and liberation struggles. Regrettably Mwalimu turned down our invitation. The reasons shall be narrated another day. However, it was in the course of that discussion that Mwalimu talked about Winnie. For clarity let be narrate verbatim as follows:
Mwalimu: Who else has been invited to this conference of yours at the University?
Myself: Mama Winnie Mandela from South Africa.
Mwalimu (reassuring somewhat): Look here, my not coming to your conference cannot mean that I do not support you. Everyone knows my views on this issue (of the UWT position in CCM). Winnie Mandela is a good choice for the keynote address. I shall encourage her to come. She has been through a true struggle. She knows what it means to speak up for oneself. She had to learn the hard way. You know I was invited to visit South Africa recently. But alas, she was not put on my programme! So, my wife (Mama Maria) refused to leave South Africa without visiting Winnie! So, I told my hosts that I want to go to Soweto to visit Winnie! We went there, unannounced. Luckily Winnie was at home. We found her giving a class to small kindergarten children. She was very happy to see us. She is in touch with the people! But some of the ANC colleagues, I found them in Pretoria, in exclusive suburbs.
It is all so developed, so good, they risk forgetting Soweto and the struggle soon, if they are not careful. So let Winnie come and tell you about the struggle. She suffered a lot. Nelson was locked up. He is a very intelligent guy. Very lovable. So after sometime the young police wardens ordered by his captors could not but like him, even love him and respect him! But poor Winnie. She was effectively imprisoned on the outside. Which is always more challenging politically. Look here, if you are in jail you cannot commit political mistakes! But if you are outside and being harassed, you can commit mistakes. You are exposed. I am happy Winnie is being invited. She will be good for your meeting. Very good. I promise to encourage her to come.”
Upon learning of Mama Winnie’s demise I promised myself I shall pay my tribute by informing the world what Mwalimu Nyerere, the Founding Father of Tanzania, said about Winnie and what she had to go through. He knew she was getting a bad deal. It is gratifying to see that being corrected, at long last. Mama Winnie will definitely now take her rightful place in South African history and the liberation of African peoples from discrimination and ridicule in the world.
As for women in general and African women in particular, we have a heroine to emulate. We should never allow ourselves to be discouraged by political setbacks and intrigues. Mama Winnie never gave up, never despaired, never lost it even in the hardest of times and circumstances. She soldiered on to the ultimate victory that is now being witnessed as she is laid to rest. May God Almighty grant her eternal rest and the family, strength to accept what has happened and move on!
The author is a Member of Parliament for Muleba South. A retired UN Under Secretary General and former Executive Director of UN-HABITAT she is winner of the prestigious Walter Sisulu Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 which is given by the Government of South Africa in honor of Nelson Mandela and his fellow anti-apartheid prisoners.