It is with sadness that I learnt of the passing of Zindziswa Mandela, daughter of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela, this past Monday in a hospital of Johannesburg at the tender age of 59. Last child of her parents, she was affectionately called Zindzi. She grew up at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, of which her parents were at the forefront as revolutionaries: she was only 18 months old when her father was thrown in jail for 27 years. She was projected into the spotlight at the age of 16, when her mother was banished to Bramburg, and later on at 25 when her father Nelson Mandela was offered a conditional release in 1985 by the then-State President, P. W. Botha. Her father’s reply could not be delivered by either one of her parents. Consequently, Zindzi was chosen to read his refusal at a public meeting on 10 February 1985.
In a statement, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said of her legacy, “Zindzi will be remembered for a rich and extraordinary life, marked by many iconic moments. The years she spent banished with Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to the small town of Brandfort. That summer’s day in February 1985 at Jabulani Stadium when she read to the world Madiba’s rejection of President Botha’s offer of a conditional release from prison. Her own courageous work in underground structures. Public service as South African Ambassador to Denmark. We will also remember her as a special soul.”
Zindzi was a very strong woman who went through the struggles of her mother, Winnie, when she was banished and tortured during the apartheid regime; one could say that she was her mother’s closest companion. She had to grow up fast. In his personal archive, Nelson Mandela spoke of Zindzi’s strength, as well as to the nature of their relationship. In a 1969 letter from prison, Madiba noted that Zindzi’s “heart is sore because I am not at home and wants to know when I will come back.” In a 1987 letter to Zindzi, Madiba told her that he had heard from an acquaintance that she was as strong as a rock. He went on: “That is just the kind of remark a father would like to hear about his beloved child. I literally swelled with pride and satisfaction. That remark reached me at the right time, shortly after you had just gone through a rather harrowing experience.” He ended the letter: “Tons and tons of love darling, and a million kisses.”
I leave you here with Zindzi reading her father’s letter of rejection in 1985. You must admit that for a young woman, reading that letter must have required a lot of courage, determination and strength to defy the apartheid regime and stand in front of such a crowd (a full stadium) thirsty for words of encouragement, and hope from their leaders to keep facing the injustices of an inhumane regime. Bold!