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Kyle Zeeman | I am white and I am mourning Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at her 80th birthday celebration in 2016. File photo
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at her 80th birthday celebration in 2016. File photo
Image: David Harrison

You don’t think you need me to tell you‚ but I will anyway‚ the hate you saw on social media after the death of apartheid struggle hero Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was not only reserved for the anonymity of the screen.

It was real — and it seemed like it was all around me.

I remember feeling like I had been punched in the stomach and struggled to breathe when it was confirmed that Ma Winnie had died. Driving home‚ I thought it was a bad dream.

Safe in my own space‚ I shouted at the radio‚ at the world‚ to acknowledge that the mother of our nation had died.

Those close to me know that I have preached the virtues (and vices) of Ma Winnie ever since I read a series of books about her life about two years ago.

My white friends usually put up with me and roll their eyes as they smile and say: ‘you really like her‚ hey?’ But a lot of that changed this week when suddenly the silent nods made way for messages like‚ “she is a witch” and “Finally! I hope she burns in hell“.

I was raised‚ like many white people‚ not knowing much about Ma Winnie other than she was the wife of Nelson Mandela and that she allegedly burnt people alive.

If you were especially “woke” you were told that she apparently killed a 14-year-old boy named Stompie Seipei‚ and was the devil incarnate. It was intriguing to me that so much hate could be directed at someone who I knew so little about.

So‚ I started to study more about her life.

I read how she often gave shelter to people who were fighting in the struggle and comforted women whose young children had died.

I wept when I read her account of being taken from her children and being kept in isolation‚ often speaking out loud to them as if they were there during her lonely hours in prison.

My heart broke when I read account after account of a mother who did her best to provide for her family and community while never giving the apartheid government the satisfaction of seeing her many tears.

I wept when I read her account of being taken from her children and being kept in isolation‚ often speaking out loud to them as if they were there during her lonely hours in prison.
Kyle Zeeman 

I won’t pretend to know everything about the struggle or even about Ma Winnie — there are people much more informed than me- but like Maya Angelou said‚ you’ll never forget how a person makes you feel‚ and Ma Winnie’s life made me feel like she brought hope into the world in an hour of darkness.

She was real to me and even though I later read about the things she got up to as a leader of the Mandela United Football Club‚ I was wise enough to know that life is never really black and white‚ but a dark cloud of grey coloured by propaganda and the baggage you bring from the past.

That is why I am shocked that most of the conversations I have had since Ma Winnie’s death have involved so much of hate towards her.

People who once politely nodded to my interest in the stalwart‚ were suddenly hating her like robots.

Suddenly I was made to feel like it was a political thing to speak of Ma Winnie and I was choosing sides.

If it wasn’t ignorance‚ it was tension.

I was blue ticking people and avoiding certain friends to prevent arguments.

I knew that Ma Winnie divided people but now it felt like I was at war with my own tribe.

But despite the tension‚ I knew that when I decided to pay my respects outside Ma Winnie’s house in Soweto this week that I would be welcome as a white man.

I would be allowed to mourn with the nation‚ no matter my political affiliation or skin colour.

Standing in the pouring rain‚ I watched as flowers were laid for her and tears flowed.

I watched a community in mourning and danced with them as they celebrated Ma Winnie’s life.

It was a sacred space because a human being had died. Someone flawed but still a human being.

I knew that ubuntu was stronger than any skin colour or hate- and that is the only thing that can heal a South African.

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