So Long to Zindzi Mandela: Daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela

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Zindzi Mandela (Source: Timeslive.co.za)

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 PresidentP. 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.

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Nelson Mandela clothed in a Pathe’O shirt

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.

Winnie Mandela_5
Winnie Madikizela  Mandela

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!

Nelson Mandela in his Own Words

Nelson and Winnie Mandela, on Nelson's release from prison on 11 Feb. 1990
Nelson and Winnie Mandela, on Nelson’s release from prison on 11 Feb. 1990

I remember the day Nelson Mandela was freed from jail after 27 years of imprisonment.  It was on 11 February 1990.  This being a national holiday in Cameroon, we were all at home, and could watch live as Nelson Mandela was released from prison and walked hand in hand with Winnie Mandela, both with their fists raised high up.  Later that day, Mandela stood outside the balcony with his fist raised high up, and said: “Amandla!” to which the overjoyed crowd replied “Ngawethu!”, in other words, “Power to the People!” And he finished “iAfrika!”  I am leaving you here with some words by Mandela himself.

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“I raised my right fist and there was a roar.  I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy.” Describing the day of his release from prison in 1990 – Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

I am fundamentally an optimist.  Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.  Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.  There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.  That way lays defeat and death.” Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Nelson Mandela ca 1955
Nelson Mandela ca 1955

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”  Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”  Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Madiba
Madiba

“I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? … But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one’s spirits strong even when one’s body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty. On Prison – Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Zindzi Mandela reading her father's refusal to leave prison - 1985
Zindzi Mandela reading her father’s refusal to leave prison – 1985

In the name of the law, I found myself treated as a criminal… not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of my conscience. No-one in his right senses would choose such a life, but there comes a time when a man is denied the right to live a normal life, when he can only live the life of an outlaw because the government has so decreed to use the law. … The question being asked up and down the country is this: Is it politically correct to continue preaching peace and non-violence when dealing with a government whose barbaric practices have brought so much suffering and misery to Africans? I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I, and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.Message read by his daughter, Zindzi Mandela, at a rally in Soweto in 1985.

It seems the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives… to be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy.  But it was a job I had far too little of.”  Talking about fatherhood – Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness…  The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.” On prison – Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Nelson Mandela raising the freedom fist
Nelson Mandela raising the freedom fist

The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise…  But there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths [dogmas] that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster.  It remains our hope that these, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realize that history will not be denied and that the new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged.” On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk, 1993.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  Presidential Inauguration, 10 May 1994.

Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…  The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.  Let freedom reign.  God bless Africa!” Presidential inauguration, 10 May 1994.

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela, 1994.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 - 05 Dec 2013)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 – 05 Dec 2013)

I am confident that nobody … will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health with my family, my friends, and also with myself.” On stepping down after his first term as president.

Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom. Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up.” Message at the Live 8 Concert in Edinburgh, July 2005.