Johnny Masilela, The BEAT editor.  Photo: TK Mashaba

Mama Winnie taught us about megalomaniacs of this world, too


Johnny Masilela   l   Views: 142

We all have fond and not so fond memories of the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, don’t we?

Well, I am only as South African as pap and boerewors, and also have my own memories dating back to my days as a mainstream newspaper reporter.

Let me start by boasting that I have had close encounters with Mama Winnie, as part of my job, and also that I was friends with one of her closest comrades, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.

Remember Gwen, she is the former minister who was shown the door by former President Jacob Zuma, following question marks over the leasing of a certain building.

But then that is a story for another day.

My first encounter with Mama Winnie was during the burial of an MK cadre, Bachana Mokoena.

The burial was held at the cemetery in the erstwhile Bophuthatswana township of Ga-Rankuwa, west of Pretoria, following persistent resistance from Bantustan strongman, Lucas Mangope.

Towards the end of the burial rites, Gwen whispered to me that we journalists were invited to meet Mama Winnie at Gwen’s house in the township’s Unit 8.

I can’t at the spare of the moment recall what the informal discussions were about, but have vivid memories of sharing the same space with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a woman who has been described in many quarters as a Colossus.

That was one hell of an experience, I tell you.

Back at the burial proceedings, the late Nelson Mandela was the keynote speaker.

I remember vividly how the then just released former political prisoner had mourners in stitches, when he spoke about how Mangope had objected to the funeral being held in Bophuthatswana.

Madiba said he had personally phoned the Mangope household in Mahikeng, to facilitate negotiations.

The voice at the other end of the line, Mandela explained, was that of a woman he guessed was the wife, Leah Mangope.

Mandela said he had kindly asked to speak to Lucas Mangope, when the woman — also politely — asked who was calling.

Madiba said he told the woman that his name was Mandela.

“Mandela?” the woman gasped.

And Madiba said yes, it was him calling.

The woman then wanted to know which Mandela was calling, and Madiba explained his identity further.

Hurriedly the woman asked Madiba to hold on, and in a moment a male voice came on the line. “Mangope speaking, what can I do for you, sir?” the male voice declared.

Mandela said the two exchanged tense pleasantries, until he had impressed on Mangope that Comrade Bachana, an MK cadre and former exile, was to be buried in his home township of Ga-Rankuwa.

Then Madiba disclosed to the thousands of mourners that Mangope had said he had no problem with the funeral arrangements, but that he did not want Mama Winnie and the late Communist firebrand, Chris Hani, to enter Bophuthatswana.

Guess what? Mama Winnie did attend and was one of the speakers, calling Mangope “that megalomaniac”.

May Mama Winnie’s, Madiba’s and indeed ol’ man river Mangope’s soul rest in peace.

16 months ago       05 April 2018