The late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a political figure who excited strong views; these continue in the immediate aftermath of her death. Most analyses of her utilise the binary trope of good/bad mother and wife, and seek either to excoriate or to sanctify her. In this article, I re-examine the key incidents in her ‘fall’ from political grace, when the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC) embarked on a series of violent actions in the mid 1980s. Using a feminist lens, the article argues that Madikizela-Mandela deployed gender as a political resource, but that she went beyond the boundaries set for women in South African liberation politics to become a populist leader in her own right. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela exemplified the radical rejection of political negotiations in South Africa and supported an accelerated and, if necessary, violent confrontation with the apartheid government. The article revisits the 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing into the activities of the MUFC, exploring Madikizela-Mandela’s testimony as a performance of the refusal of the terms of the democratic transition. Rather than accepting the contingent, messy and sometime compromised arrangements that accompanied the end of apartheid, Madikizela-Mandela articulated a set of radical positions that were in tension with the position of the African National Congress (ANC), a movement of which she was a leading member. Against the dominant position that a political compromise was necessary, she held on to the fundamental argument that only a thoroughgoing overturning of apartheid (not just legal forms but economic and social dimensions) would be acceptable, and that, if necessary, this should be achieved by violence. This radical position remains attractive to important sections of the left, but leaves key questions of politics – in particular the place of revolutionary violence, and the terms on which friends and enemies are identified, unanswered.

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Journal of Southern African Studies

Hassim, S. (2018). Not just Nelson’s wife: Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, violence and radicalism in South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies, 44(5), 895–912. doi:10.1080/03057070.2018.1514566