Winnie Mandela: Blessed is the Mother of the Nation

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GUEST COLUMNIST BY ISSA AREMU 

Blessed is Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela (1936-2018) for she has been post-humously celebrated globally as the undisputed mother of the modern democratic South African Nation and indeed the continent, Africa!

She passed away on April 2, 2018 at 81 after eventful life of struggle against the obnoxious apartheid and for better Africa, devoid of poverty and oppression. Her body was laid to eternal rest in her Soweto hometown last Saturday with full state honours.

I agree with Jesse Jackson, the American Civil rights activist, who in a tribute, observed that the ANC “didn’t show up Winnie Madikizela-Mandela enough appreciation while alive” and that “freedom fighters are only appreciated after they die”. If you ask me, the global outpouring of official and unofficial tributes which rightly accorded Winnie Mandela her deserved status as a frontline freedom fighter in Africa would have been better at her 80th birthday rather than her grave side at 81! Her organisation, the African National Congress (ANC), at some critical times looked the other way when she was being smeared with phony murder and fraud charges by the dying apartheid regime in 1991. Like all the oppressed confronting the meanest inhuman regime known to humankind (apartheid system!), Winnie Mandela certainly could not have been infallible. Not with documented atrocities and provocations of apartheid.

But it was wrong to have demonised Winnie the way the white dominated South African media did. After her death, its time we revisited Winnie Mandela’s sobering words conveying her pains (and her pains alone!). Witness this: “The years of imprisonment hardened me…. Perhaps if you have been given a moment to hold back and wait for the next blow, your emotions wouldn’t be blunted as they have been in my case. When it happens every day of your life, when that pain becomes a way of life, I no longer have the emotion of fear. There is no longer anything I can fear. There is nothing the government has not done to me. There isn’t any pain I haven’t had”.

Apartheid government in the 70s sent her into exile to the secluded Free State town of Brandfort for nine years! “I am the product of the masses of my country and the product of my enemy”, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela once said! Last Friday, the United Nations paid special tribute to her in New York. Speaking at the special memorial, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said Winnie as a symbol of resistance against oppression could not be overstated. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was the authentic Mama Africa! She together with her husband, Nelson Mandela epitomized remarkable sacrifices for the freedom of all Africans against the tyranny and indignity of apartheid.

Lest we forget, not long ago racist South Africa shamelessly separated the present rainbow nation of beautiful peoples on account of the colour of their skins. Apartheid South Africa callously separated young handsome husband- Mandela from his beautiful wife; Winnie for 27 years! Winnie courageously joined the millions who fought and defeated apartheid. She combined rare multiple roles of a woman: a mother, grandmother, freedom fighter, party organiser and a parliamentarian among others.

As a stateswoman, she was humans-labour friendly. My recollection of Winnie was that of a good woman who exhibited unconditional love for others. My close contact with her was in Abuja in 2010 at Daily Trust Dialogue/ round table. Paradoxically I just bought a book: WINNIE MANDELA (A LIFE) by Anne Marie Du Perez (2005). I demanded from her an autograph of a compelling read. Without hesitation she obliged me with a pleasure. Her signature/ autograph; “MUCH LOVE” is the best I ever had from any great figure in the world (and I had a bagful of such autographs!). In the past three years, through my dear comrade Mathebane Patrick of National Union of Mine workers (NUM) of South Africa, I had planned during my numerous visits to SA to Mama Winnie’s in Soweto for an engaging lesson in leadership before death came calling. She was truly a symbol of dignified courage.

I recall that former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo was the moderator of 2010 Daily Trust Round Table. As a modern day “African King-King” undoubtedly OBJ derives pleasure to dictate to others with little tolerance for others to do same to him. Being a chairman without moderation, OBJ spoke endlessly on the controversial health status of late President Yar Adua, (a divisive local Nigerian issue which had nothing to do with theme of the Dialogue; “The African Woman and Politics”). Then after he decreed few minutes each to all the female panellists including Mama Winnie.

Trust Winnie for legitimate resistance! She simply ignored Obasanjo’s time-dictatorship, and took her time to speak authoritatively on the relevant topic of the day. As far back as 1970, Winnie said; “To those who oppose us, we say, ‘Strike the woman, and you strike the rock’!” Some of her quotable quotes from Abuja Dialogue are words on the marble: “women should rise up to the challenge of their marginalization in male-dominated society”! “Women are their own liberators”. The one I found most powerful was; “Nothing about us without us”. I suggest that African schools should identify great African women leaders like Winnie in our continent and share their experiences as lessons for young Africans. Winnie was also an organisational faithful who like Nelson Mandela, despite some occasional frustrations with ANC, still kept fate with the ANC to the end.

Most important, very few South African leaders are openly grateful for the role other African countries, notably Nigeria, played in defeating apartheid like Winnie Mandela. She paid glowing tributes to Nigeria for her support for liberation struggle at every turn, also just like Mandela unlike the likes of Zumas. She openly damned xenophobia at the time it was not fashionable to do so and at the time some ANC chieftains unacceptably rationalised and fuelled xenophobia by blaming rising crimes and unemployment on “African immigrants”.

The earned position of Winnie in history has changed for better the narrative about the role of great African women in politics beyond the top-down bestowed First Ladyism and UN’s allotted quota representation. The life and times of Winnie Mandela practically showed that it is the commitment, courage, integrity and determination that women (and men!) bring to the political arena that matter not necessarily their gender.

As far back as October 1958 Winnie featured in anti-pass demonstration. She was the most intimidated, watched and brutalised political activist by the apartheid regime of terror. Behind today’s triumphant clenched fist of this great African woman was (and still is!) tenacity, staying power and unquantifiable sacrifices.
May her soul Rest In Peace!

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Still on African Free Trade Area

While intra-African Trade can bring economic benefits to member states, there should be broad consultation and participation to avoid the pit-falls of past trade agreements. There are already as many as eight Regional Economic Communities (RECS) in Africa including the oldest, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Given the challenges facing these RECs, are the advantages assigned to the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA ) real or as usual promissory? Can AfCFTA really ensure success integration when indeed the RECs have not really delivered industrial development, agricultural growth and services? I think the development of Regional value chains should first be encouraged at the regions to first replace through import substitution and ensure linkages with all sectors. Trade, (sorry fair trade!) is the means to development, not the end itself. Therefore any genuine trade pact must necessarily foster growth; create mass decent jobs and development. For Nigeria to further reduce import duties to 90%, as envisaged by ACFTA will fuel cheaper imports smuggled goods that would overrun domestic markets of local products.

Domestic high production costs have undermined competitiveness, perpetuating in turn deindustrialisation, unemployment and income poverty. What are the implications of the ACFTA, for existing ECOWAS treaty, and its notorious Common External tariff (CET) and the contentious new-colonial Economic Partnership for Africa (EPA)? President Buhari must initiate a trade summit and its impact on job creations in Africa. Who funds the implementation of ACFTA and the Customs Union? Whatever the outcomes of such deliberation, ACFTA should allow Nigeria the domestic policy space such that the current policy objectives of job creation and industrialisation as contained in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (EPRG) and Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) are not jeopardized. Twice beaten by WTO and bilateral trade deals of dubious values, Africa must be endlessly shy of new trade deals.