Opinion: Reaction to Winnie Mandela's death exposes a deeply divided South Africa

Opinion: Reaction to Winnie Mandela's death exposes a deeply divided South Africa

Editor’s note: Author and freelance columnist, Ryland Fisher, argues that the death of Winnie Mandela serves to display how deeply divided South Africa remains. He argues that her death and discussions around it have overshadowed many other significant stories in the media

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Ryland Fisher says this week should have been about so many others rather than just a focus on the death of Winnie Mandela.

This week should have been mainly about commemorating the birthday of the late legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela, or the 90th birthday of revered American poet and author, Dr Maya Angelou, who passed away almost four years ago, or the 50th anniversary of the assassination of American civil rights leader, Reverend Dr Martin Luther King.

In his regular weekly column, #ThinkingAllowed, he this week argues that South African attention, focused as it has been on the death at 81-years of struggle stalwart, Madikizela-Mandela, has missed opportunities to celebrate and recognise many other significant events.

The news of Madikizela-Mandela’s passing completely overshadowed the death of another amazing pioneering South African woman, Pam Golding, who took on the white male business establishment, against great odds, in the 1970s.

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He also points to another woman, Faieza Desai, who too lost a life she had spent quiety in defiance against those who would dictate to her because of her gender. Her struggle against sexism continuined even after her death.

Madikizela-Mandela’s death also made us overlook the remarkable life of another great Cape Town woman, Faieza Desai, who passed away at the age of 51 last Friday. In her death, she defied traditional and sexist Muslim tradition when women were allowed at her graveside.

The ongoing struggle against sexism

Fisher says the struggle of women over sexism is an ongoing one which began way before Madikizela-Mandela's time and is sure to continue long after her death. "If the struggle against racism is far from over, then the struggle for gender equality has even further to go," he says.

The inherent sexism in valuing women only in their relation to the significant men in their lives is, Fisher argues, problematic.

In most cases, women only get recognised as the wife or partner of a man. I have frequently remarked on the sexism of the saying “behind ever successful man is a woman”, because it implies women must stand behind their men, not beside them and definitely not in front of them.

Vitriol spewed

Fisher says he, like many other South African's were shocked by the unexpected news of the Mother of our Nation's death, but expressed sadness that he couldn't claim to be surprised by the negative things said about her, even in death.

I have not been surprised by the vitriol spewed by mainly white South Africans, who always appear to be desperately looking for ways to denigrate the achievements of black South Africans.

He says he finds himself at a loss in trying to understand why some people seem to continually try to create a rift between the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the organisation and people he always represented and served.

Many of the people who invoke Mandela’s name nowadays never voted for him when they had an opportunity, something they will conveniently not admit, just like the racists who voted for the apartheid regime will never admit that they did.

Tit for tat

Fisher also expresses dismay at the actions of some of the so-called "black twitter" who, in response to those who vilified Winnie Mandela, worked towards vilifying the legacy of Golding and making what he describes as "racist comments on stories about her passing."

That is not helpful. In some ways, we are talking past each other.
If anything, Madikizela-Mandela’s death has once again shown up the deep divide that continues to exist in South Africa, almost 24 years into our democracy. We cannot move forward as a country unless we deal with the deep discomfort some of us feel towards others which surfaces at times like this.

Fisher says he has always attempted to find explanations for the divisions in South Africa within the existence of huge inequalities within the country. However he says the comments this week from both black and white people in South Africa have led him to believe that what divides these people is far more than just simple inequality, and runs far deeper within the psyche of the country.

Even if we eradicate all the economic inequality in our society, we will still not have dealt with the psychological inequality, something that exists not only in South Africa but throughout the world.


Fisher notes that the common call for everyone to just "move on" from history and look to the future is a common one, but that it is also unhelpful in the way it fails to allow people to understand the roots of their anger.

There appears to be an impatience among many whites who feel that we should “move on” from our apartheid past. Instead of asking us to do that, they should try to understand the roots of our anger.

Drawing from his own experiences growing up in South Africa, Fisher says he feels he, although having been very poor, had a relatively easy life, but that the worst aspects of his upbringing didn't have to do with his poverty, but his race.

I had my share of being denied opportunities because of my race; of experiencing police brutality; of being arrested and detained without warning and without reason; of having to pass by white beaches until we got to the worst one (which was reserved for blacks); of having to sit upstairs or at the back of buses because only white people could sit downstairs or in front, of watching my dad being called “boy” by white people young enough to be his children.

He concludes by saying white South African people need to begin to try to understand the pain of oppression if they really do want to pay more than mere lip service about being part of South Africa in the future.

I’m sorry but if the white people who attacked Madikizela-Mandela so blatantly and viciously on social media this week want to be part of South Africa, they must try to understand our pain in order to understand our anger. If they refuse to do so, they might as well go live in Australia.

Ryland Fisher is an independent media professional with more than 35 years of experience as an editor, journalist, columnist, author, senior manager and executive in the media industry. He is the former Editor of the Cape Times and The New Age, and was assistant editor of the Sunday Times.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Briefly.co.za.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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