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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela: This Fight Bears My Name

This poem was penned as a tribute to Madikizela-Mandela and will be published as part of his poetry anthology later this year.

This Fight Bears My Name

Winnie Madikizela Mandela

Our very self was threatened,
Subjugated, cursed with ease.
What am I am to say
when their eyes,
stare at me with sheer grief,
at the torment,
the guile so defined?
I refuse to lead them to apologise
for home is the land
and the land bears their names.
What I am to say to their being;
derided, defiled, lacking peace?
When their bodies have not slept,
For all long night they sat and wept?
I must fight!
This fight bares my name.

Valleys are still adorned
With my father’s footsteps,
when he too renounced silence.
armed with nothing but his name,
The warrior led the cry of fearlessness.

The unimposing hill of Isandlwana,
reminiscent of my grandmother’s bounty.
The face in the clouds is that of my sister,
The soil, so rich, splendid and healthy
Exemplifies the very nation it holds.
I am this place.
I am this land.

I fight for I can do nothing else
My father’s blood speaks,
My mother’s soul weeps.
It beckons even those creeks,
fighting for weeks,
Barring whips,
tears as ablutions,
with my every presence I fight.
Patiently I stomach derision,
Not because it is right or might
But because I know that bruising
Can only pre-empt triumph.

Every shot, whip, curse and pain
unites me strongly
with my suffering brethren.
When the heat of unity reaches
the maximus of toleration,
there, and only there,
Does silence end
Then truest wrath
Bellows with might;
This fight bears my name!

When my own self bled
From Blood River to Sharpville
From Sharpville to Soweto,
From Soweto to Boipatong,
I had to fight!
This fight bears my name.

When my mother was lesser than the house pet,
My father reduced to having children as his masters,
I had to fight!
This fight bears my name!

Convinced and unstoppable,
A period to that history was necessary.
With every fist in the air,
With no words to spare,
I am unashamedly calling to being
A new story for my people.

This post was first published on Daily Maverick
Image: Wikipedia

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


  1. Winnie Madikizela Mandela (1936 – 2018)

    Between January 1991 and August 1992 I published three articles in a banned South African exile magazine. Searchlight South Africa, in which I did my best to report and analyse the Winnie Mandela phenomenon. I was a co-founder and co-editor of the magazine, published in London, together with my colleague Dr Baruch Hirson, who had served nine years in Pretoria Local Prison as a leader of the sabotage group, the African Resistance Movement. We had published the earliest first-hand memoir of the mutiny in Umkhonto we Sizwe in Angola in 1984, and the experience of Quatro prison camp in Angola. All three articles about Winnie Mandela are online on the main site of South African historical writing, SA History Online, and were available to Ms Pascale Lamche, the director of the film Winnie, but avoided, or deliberately ignored.

    The first article was “A death in South Africa: The killing of Sipho Phungulwa”, published in issue No.6 in January 1991, available below, where I begin as follows:

    And thus we come to Caesar’s wife. As the decades of Mandela’s imprisonment went by, the mystique of royalty, the principle of divine right, passed by law of succession to his wife, who became the representative of the idea of the sacral on the earth of township politics. In so far as Mandela in prison was mystically always present through his absence, Mrs Mandela as consort played a very material Empress Theodora, or perhaps Lady Macbeth. The more the myth grew through Mandela’s unworldly situation in prison—alive, yet dead to human contact, the unseen mover in the power play of southern African politics—the more an extraordinary status attached to his wife.

    During the 1960s and especially in the 1970s, Winnie Mandela won widespread respect for her resistance to the government. She defied loss of husband, banning, banishment, prison and unremitting police harassment, emerging from the 1976 student revolt as an important political leader. She was an emblem of defiance. The fact that her political philosophy was shaped by a crude nationalism opened her to the abuses of the 1980s: a matter greatly facilitated by her unique status as oracle to the unseen leader on Robben Island. In conditions of unremitting social tension, culminating in near-insurrection in the period of the 1984-86 township revolt, these circumstances produced their own deadly result.

    This would have been venal enough if her courtiers had principally been adults. It was in the nature of South Africa in the mid-1980s, however, that her retinue was composed largely of children. Old Socrates drank hemlock, by order of an Athenian court, on a charge of corruption of youth, but Mrs Mandela’s corruption of youth proceeded under the title Mama we Sizwe: ‘mother of the nation’. … (etc, p.12)

    I followed this up in the following issue, No. 7, in July 1991, with an another article,”The trial of Winnie Mandela”

    This was followed by a final article, “The mistrial of Winnie Mandela: A problem of justice” in issue No.9 in August 1992, which argued that reasons of politics in a very fraught political period in South Africa ahead of the first democratic elections had outweighed the principles of justice:

    I argued in that final article (p.39):

    The lesson she sought to instill was already all too well learned in this society. Don’t step out of line. Don’t make waves. Don’t put your head above the parapet. Don’t annoy the powers that be. Don’t express your privately held opinions. Everything that a thinker like Biko sought to develop among blacks at the level of consciousness — in terms of personal courage, above all — was shoved down their throats, and black people were made to eat their own previous opinion of themselves. This was a phenomenon of reaction, not of revolution; of a society that had lost its way, and was blindly inflicting wounds upon itself. Mrs Mandela added humiliation to powerlessness by making the powerless celebrate and dance to her personal arrogation of their own right to represent themselves. The greater the previous sacrifice by the society, and the more dearly bought its achievements, the greater the shame. A colossal selfishness and desire for self-aggrandizement — psychologial as well as in the acquisition of property — here decked itself out in the stolen clothes of concern for the welfare of the people, anger at the suffering of’the masses’, desire for retribution against ‘the enemy’, etc. That was the substance of Mrs Mandela’s radicalism, which entranced practically all the international left and the liberal media pundits.

    And that is what everything I have read a